October 28, 2006

Weekend Question 1: Why Should the ‘Card Check’ Idea Be Chucked?

Filed under: Business Moves,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:51 am

ANSWER: Because it eliminates the secret ballot in union-certification drives, and is a fundamentally dishonest way to subvert workers’ actual sentiments.


This betrayal of one of the Democratic Party’s greatest legacies is brought to you by Representative George Miller of California and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and goes under the Orwellian name of “The Employee Free Choice Act.”

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on this legislation, which is a sneak preview of many other pieces of mischief a change in control of Congress might bring, in early September (subscription required):

The bill would effectively do away with secret ballot organizing elections, a product of the 1935 Wagner Act and the crown jewel of federal labor law.

Under the current organizing process, 30% or more of employees file a petition; arguments for and against unionization are presented; and a secret-ballot election is administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If a majority of employees vote in favor, the union is recognized as the exclusive bargaining agent for all workers at that workplace, not just those who voted for it.

Labor wins most of these NLRB elections, but its high winning percentage is a function of organizers going forward only when they think they can win a vote. The reality is that private-sector union membership has been declining for decades. The reasons vary, from a general sense that unions are often corrupt or overly politicized, to a more individual determination that one-size-fits-all contracts hold back the best and most productive workers. Whatever the cause, union membership fell to 7.8% of all private-sector workers last year from 20% in 1983.

This decline helps explain why organized labor is so eager to ditch the secret ballot. Bruce Raynor, who heads the hotel and needle trades union, has gone so far as to say he no longer wants to “subject workers to an election,” as if letting employees decide for themselves somehow makes them victims.

Mr. Raynor and other labor leaders are pushing an alternative known as “card check,” whereby paid union organizers, um, “persuade” employees to sign pro-union cards. No election, secret or otherwise, is held. As soon as organizers have gathered signatures from more than half of workers, the union can be recognized. Labor is also pressuring employers to sign “neutrality agreements” (read: gag orders) that keep them silent while unions are organizing workers. The potential abuses here are myriad, especially in workplace intimidation.

Employers currently have the option of recognizing a union based on the card check process, but the Kennedy-Miller legislation would make this a requirement. Secret ballot elections would end unless union officials consented to them.

Unfortunately — Fat chance.

“Card check” is a sickening betrayal of the labor movement’s legacy and origins, which were built around the idea of having secret-ballot elections to avoid employer coercion. Now that employees in general, especially in the private sector, are largely disinterested in organizing (many of them, I believe, haven’t been convinced that it will benefit them), and intimidating employer behavior has been largely reined in, the union movement wants to take the secret ballot away. Sorry, folks; you need to make your case to the workers. If it’s not happening, rethink what you are doing, and focus your efforts on industries and companies that are in reality not treating their workers well.

There are several private-sector areas of the economy that might benefit from being responsibly organized; the fact that the unions are not winning over workers who could genuinely benefit from sticking together is the unions’ fault, not the playing field’s.


UPDATE: Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland is one of about 200 co-sponsors of the legislation.


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