Senators argue union rules for airline mergers

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said it was clear that Congress only intended for the higher election requirement to apply to new airline votes.

"The plain language and legislative history of section 1003, along with basic common sense, demonstrate that the provision had no impact on the [NMB's] current showing of interest requirement for mergers," they wrote. "This amendment to the [Railway Labor Act] merely establishes the showing of interest required where a union newly seeks to represent a workplace, rather than in the distinct situation where an organized workplace merges with another workplace."

Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) argued in a filing of their own with the NMB that it was just as obvious that the legislation should be interrupted the opposite way.

"The plain language and intent of the new law have been mischaracterized in the public sphere," the Republican lawmakers wrote. "Under existing procedures the NMB requires the filing of 'an application' when requisition a representation election as part of a merger. There, there is no question that the new 50 percent standard is required where an application is filed, which includes mergers."

Part of the reason the definition of when the threshold applies has been an issue lately is because of a fight about a union election at American Airlines. The NMB ruled that an effort to organize a union vote at the airline that was conducted under the old labor rules was valid.

But American has countered in a lawsuit that the petition to hold the election should be thrown out because it was conducted under the old 35 percent rules.

The airline has not entered into a merger as it goes through bankruptcy proceedings, but officials from U.S. airlines have expressed interest in the company.

Mergers between United and Continental and Delta and Northwest have also tested combinations of unionized and non-unionized airline work forces in recent years.