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Fact Checking ‘Card Check’

Friday, March 9, 2007

If the “Employee Free Choice Act,” recently passed by the House of Representatives, were ever to take effect, the economic consequences could be severe. It would make union formation easier, and business success more difficult, by decreasing employees’ autonomy.

Strike (300)Under current law, an employer does not have to recognize a union until its employees have voted to unionize in a secret ballot. This ensures that workers really do want to unionize and have not been intimidated into saying so. Under the new bill’s “card check” provision, organizers will be able to collect public pledges of support from workers. Once a majority of workers have publicly filled out cards stating that they want to organize, the union will gain recognition.

Fortunately, the bill will not become law. President Bush has promised to veto it, and an impending filibuster led by Senate Republicans means it likely will not reach his desk. But given the measure’s popularity, it is still important to understand its faults.

Both sides, in the conflict between unions and employers, claim that the other routinely uses intimidation to influence workers’ choices about whether or not to form a union. A secret ballot prevents anyone, on either side, from unfairly influencing the voting decisions of the workers whose jobs are at stake.

Unions argue that “union elections are unlike any other kind of elections because of the inherent coercive power that management holds over employees—the power to deprive employees of their livelihood and to control their pay, hours and working conditions.” As a result, they claim, employees do not feel comfortable voting their minds, even in a secret ballot.

The argument is bizarre. These elections are federally supervised and are not as prone to abuse as unions like to suggest. Moreover, what if secret ballot elections were coercive? Would public pledge drives be any less so? Of course not: Employers, by watching union organizers, would be better able than they now are to counter union organizing. The real advantage this change would confer on the unions is that it would allow them to exert counter-democratic social pressure on communities of workers.

This is pure political payback for the unions’ help in electing Democrats to Congress in the 2006 midterm elections. If the majority in Congress really does want to safeguard worker rights, it will continue to allow workers the ability to vote with secret ballots so that they are protected from intimidation and harassment in advance of a vote.

Unions don’t like to admit it, but there are some good reasons for workers to say no to enterprising organizers. One Federal Reserve study found that “a winning certification election has, on average, about the same effect on investment as would a 30 percentage point increase in the corporate tax.”

The card-check scheme does nothing to prevent whatever unfair employer practices might exist. Indeed, it is not geared to defeat employer intimidation. Rather, it is designed—whether deliberately or inadvertently—to enhance the powers of unions to coerce workers into voting the way unions want them to vote. The card-check bill deserves the filibuster and veto that will prevent it from becoming law. And workers should keep their ability to vote free of coercion from the very unions that seek to be their champions.

Image credit: "MN State Workers fall of 2001" by Flickr user Andrew Ciscel

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