The Employee Free Choice Act and the "secret ballot"
The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is on:
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who plans to introduce a bill on Tuesday that would make it easier to form unions, said in an interview, “We have enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate.”
But then Mr. Harkin acknowledged, “I’m not sure if we have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.”
Business groups are spending millions of dollars to spread misinformation about Employee Free Choice. The biggest lie is that EFCA would threaten the principles of union democracy that Wal-Mart and CINTAS have long held sacred.
Management groups object to majority signup (aka "card check") for the simple reason that it would make it easier for workers to have a union if they want one. The anti-EFCA groups make it sound like card check would be a departure from the status quo under which the right of the worker to a secret vote is respected.
Far from being an exotic reform proposal, unionization by card check is already an option.
In fact, every unionization effort starts with organizers collecting the signatures of workers who are interested in forming a union.
If organizers can get at least a third of the workers in a shop to sign up, then the union can ask management for permission to represent those workers at the bargaining table. One third is just the legal minimum. In practice, organizers don't try to organize shops without strong majority support. It's just not worth their time.
At this point, the employer has the option of recognizing the union based on the card check. Alternatively, the employer can demand a National Labor Relations Board election.
Let's be real. Employers don't ask for NLRB elections to preserve right of their workers to democratic self-determination.
Forced elections buy management time to bring in high-priced union-busting consultants who teach the bosses how to propagandize workers and fire organizers. Such tactics are illegal, but under the status quo, the penalties are trivial and enforcement is negligible.
In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, T. A. Frank describes how Rite Aid used classic illegal union-busting tactics to thwart California warehouse workers who sought to join the ILWU.
Frank argues that, in terms of facilitating unionization, the majority signup provision of the Employee Free Choice Act is less important than toughening up our existing laws against union-busting. Of course, EFCA would also crack down on punitive firings, captive audience propaganda sessions, and other abuses of power in the runup to NLRB elections. However, Frank notes, anti-EFCA management groups have framed the debate as a fight over card check because they'd rather paint themselves as champions of democracy than as champions of union-busting. Democracy focus-tested better.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would still have the right request an NLRB election.
Under the status quo, the employer gets to decide whether there will be an NLRB election. Under Employee Free Choice, the employees choose how their votes will be counted.
If most people in the shop are satisfied with card check, then the employer will have to defer to the will of the majority. That's democracy.
Update: TAPPED plums