Earlier this month Representative George Miller, Senator Edward Kennedy, and Senator Tom Harkin sponsored and introduced the Employee Free Choice Act, which has taken on the now infamous name of “Card Check”, an allusion to the most controversial of its provisions. While the bill was passed two years ago in the House of Representatives, only now, with the almost super-Democrat majority, does it have a chance to pass the US Senate.
The aspect of the bill that seems to illicit the most reaction from opponents is the “Card Check” provision, which would allow employees to vote on whether to unionize by either a NLRB (“secret ballot”) or by majority sign-up (“card check”). Many opponents point to this and claim that the moving away from the secret ballot is a move to usurp the democratic process and allow for union intimidation.
House Committee on Education and Labor Press Secretary Aaron Albright responded to this and other concerns today in exclusive comments for Associated Content.
I asked, “Why would Rep. Miller support a bill, even if it does not outright abolish the secret ballot, that clears the way for possible union intimidation and coercive practices? Previously Rep. Miller joined 15 other colleagues in urging Mexico to recognize that “‘the secret ballot is absolutely necessary . . . to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.'” Why is the secret ballot absolutely necessary in Mexico, but only an option here?”
Mr. Albright responded, “Harassment by unions is not the problem. Unlike employers, a union organizer can’t fire you, cut your pay, or deny you a promotion. But, if you’re an employee actively trying to organize your coworkers, you have a one in five chance of getting fired by your employer for simply exercising your democratic rights. Even a pro-business group could only find 42 cases of union deception and/or coercion in obtaining card signatures over the last 70 years. Contrast that with roughly 30,000 workers who received back pay from employers that had fired or illegally intimidated them for each year of the Bush administration. It’s clear where the problem lies.”
Mr. Albright then continued, “Members of Congress wrote to Mexico in 2001 arguing in favor of a secret ballot election in a case where workers were trying to replace a sham company-dominated union with an independent union. The Employee Free Choice Act is consistent with this: it would not change the requirement for an NLRB election in cases where workers seek to replace one union with another union. Indeed, the original framers of the National Labor Relations Act intended elections for precisely those cases where multiple unions were competing – particularly where one was a sham company union and another was a real independent union.”
Over the weekend a consortium of large retailers proposed a compromise on Card Check, one of the provisions of which being the equal use of secret ballots both to unionize and disband the union. In the EFCA as currently written, a NLR (secret ballot) or a majority signup (“card check”) process may be used to organize a union, but only a secret ballot can be used to disband the union.
Rep. MIller, Rep. Rob Andrews, and Senator Harkin co-authored a letter over the weekend stating, in part, “This proposal is unacceptable. It was written by CEOs for CEOs. It is not a serious attempt at labor law reform because it fails to fundamentally address key problems that currently prevent workers from being able to join together and bargain for a better life. This proposal maintains the status quo by denying workers a real say in the workplace. It denies workers the ability to choose majority sign-up, the one method for organizing proven to reduce coercion and pressure from all sides on workers. It rejects a tried and proven method for ensuring good faith bargaining, denying workers a fair chance to gain the same kind of enforceable contracts that CEOs always take for themselves. It even increases the power of CEOs to dominate workers’ choices by allowing CEOs to initiate drives to get rid of a union – a choice that should belong to workers, not CEOs. It is nothing more than a classic Washington lobbying campaign intended to confuse the issues and disguise the real agenda of maintaining the status quo.”
I asked Mr. Albright, “Regarding the secret ballot, why does Rep. Miller support a bill, and contend a compromise, that stipulates that a majority signup (“card check”) be sufficient to unionize workers, but only a NLRB (“secret ballot”) able to deunionize? Does that not somehow seem inconsistent?”
To which Mr. Albright responded, “The Employee Free Choice Act does not change current law regarding the decertification process. Businesses can withdraw recognition if they have evidence that more than half of workers do not support the union. Or, workers could also decertify through the NLRB election process. This is consistent with the Employee Free Choice Act: workers can choose to organize through majority signup or petition for an NLRB election. The so-called “compromise” would allow corporations to initiate the decertification process, which is illegal today.”
The battle over Card Check is not over yet, and Senate Democrats and Labor Unions have targeted Republican Arlen Specter to defect to their cause, vowing support in his next re-election campaign if he were to support the Employee Free Choice Act. Some have contended that if this takes the form of campaign donations that it is a form of quid pro quo, but most would say that dealing of that sort is the typical “horse trading” that the often contentious legislative process entails.
Miller, Andrews, Harkin Statement Opposing “Alternative” to Employee Free Choice Act, March 22, 2009