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October 03, 2012

Federal appeals court ruling allows American passenger service agents to hold union vote

The passenger service agents at American Airlines can hold a union representation vote as a result of a federal appeals court ruling.

The ruling reverses a lower court judge's opinion that the National Mediation Board needed to implement a new law passed in February that required unions to collect authorization cards from 50 percent of its workers. The NMB was using the previous standard, 35 percent, since the union filed the election application in December, prior to the law being passed.

The Communications Workers of America is trying to organize American's 9,700 customer service and gate agents. The NMB had originally planned to hold the vote from June 21 to Aug. 2 but American filed a lawsuit, claiming that the new standard should be used.

"Now, the National Mediation Board can go forward with the election process that had been wrongly denied American Airlines passenger service agents since they filed for union representation in December 2011," the union said in a statement.

A date has not been set by the NMB for a new union representation election.

In its decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the lower court judge did not have jurisdiction to rule on American's lawsuit. Citing another case, the appeals court said judicial review of an NMB decision "is only appropriate where there is a 'plain violation of an unambiguous and mandatory provision of the statute,' or in other words, where the NMB has committed 'egregious error.'"

The court vacated the district court's ruling and sent the case back to the district judge instructing him to dismiss the complaint for "lack of subject matter jurisdiction."

-Andrea Ahles

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