Legislation that would prohibit air and rail unions who are on strike from picketing neutral companies was introduced in Congress Wednesday by Rep. C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).
Although the bill is not aimed at the current Eastern Airlines strike, Cox said, it would prevent future rail and airline strikers from escalating their disputes to industrywide status.
The bill--the first the freshman congressman has originated since taking office in January--would bring the Railway Labor Act into conformance with the National Labor Relations Act with regard to so-called “secondary picketing.”
“That’s an unfair legal practice and is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act,” Cox said.
He said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that since the railway act did not specifically prohibit secondary picketing, it could not be enjoined. The decision provided air and rail unions with a “nuclear weapon” that could be used to cripple transportation during disputes, he said.
“The threat of secondary activity shouldn’t be permitted,” Cox said.
So far, there has been no such picketing of neutral parties in the Eastern strike, although Continental--a non-union airline--has been picketed.
A Democratic majority staff consultant to the House Education and Labor Committee’s labor-management subcommittee said it is doubtful that anything will come of Cox’s bill since there is no secondary picketing going on in the Eastern strike.
“So it’s a solution searching for a problem at this point,” the staffer said. He said Democrats are likely to view Cox’s measure as something that would tip the balance of the Railway Labor Act in favor of the industry and lead to more strikes.
The 8,500 members of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents mechanics, baggage handlers and other ramp workers, walked off their jobs March 4. Eastern was seeking a new contract with $125 million in wage and benefit concessions while the workers wanted $50 million in improvements. The airline said it was losing $1.5 million a day before the strike and has lost $1 billion over the past decade.
The airline’s pilots and flight attendants have joined the walkout, forcing Eastern to pare its schedule from 1,040 flights per day to about 100. On March 9, Eastern sought protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code, making the carrier’s future murky.