Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fred on the Employee Free Choice Act

There is a particularly odious bit of anti-democratic, anti-business legislation making its way through the Congress. The Orwellian named legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act. It is anything but. It is legislation that would do away with the most fundemental democratic right of all Americans, a secret ballot, in the context of choosing whether to unionize. It is a gold engraved invitation to invidious intimidation and coercion by unions. Yet the Democrats are quite willing to impose this system on American employees. And it is no secret why. The Democrats care far more about the money that they can raise from unions then they care either about employees, businesses, or the drain on the economy that many unions in fact are today.

As the NYT reported today:

Senate Democratic leaders moved Tuesday to force a vote on organized labor’s top legislative priority, a bill that would make it far easier to organize workers. . .

The bill, already approved by the House but facing the threat of a veto by the Bush administration, would give employees at a workplace the right to unionize as soon as a majority signed cards saying they wanted to do so. Under current law, an employer can insist on a secret-ballot election, even after a majority sign.

Union leaders see enactment of the bill as the single most important step toward reversing labor’s long-term loss of membership and might. Virtually all Democrats in Congress are backing the legislation, partly because they recognize that a stronger labor movement, providing campaign contributions and volunteers, could translate into a stronger Democratic Party.

Business groups have mounted a big fight against the bill, with one organization, the Center for Union Facts, spending $500,000 on newspaper and broadcast advertisements this week alone.

. . . John J. Sweeney, [a union] president, expressed confidence that the bill would fare better if a Democrat won the White House next year. “This is really about 2009,” Mr. Sweeney said. “But it’s important that we show the country that we have majority support.” . .
Read the NYT article here. Although the Times, fails to tell us, Big Labor held a demonstration today, bussing in a crowd of people to support this economic time bomb. Hillary and the other Democratic presidential hopefuls were there to establish their bona fides as Big Labour supporters, but the man leading the charge was Teddy Kennedy - possibly the most destructive influence in American politics over the past half century other then Jimmy Carter:
Big Labor bussed thousands of activists to Capitol Hill Tuesday to lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act—an act union leaders have called their top legislative priority for the 110th Congress.

Event organizers claimed they brought 2,000 participants on 62 busses from the Campaign for America’s Future’s “Take Back America” conference to the Upper Senate Park.

There, a parade of Democratic congressmen and senators delivered hard-line progressive rhetoric to their pro-union advocates.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) furiously ripped up a full-page advertisement sponsored by the Center for Union Facts that was published that morning in the New York Times, USA Today and Roll Call.

The Center for Union Facts opposes the act, and their advertisement featured a large quotation: “There’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.” This quotation appeared with the question, “Who said it?” and displays photos of the former President of Uganda Idi Amin, President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees Bruce Raynor.

Kennedy held the advertisement high and said, “Here is that advertisement! They say there is no reason to subject the workers to elections. [It asks,] 'Who said it?' And then it says union bosses are pressuring the Senate to change the rules on union organizing. Learn about their scheme to eliminate workers’ right to a secret ballot at Union This is what I say to that!”

At that point Kennedy tore the advertisement into shreds-- an act that drew wild applause from the crowd.

Small print at the bottom of the Center for Union Facts’ ad reveals the quotation came from Raynor. The quotation was published in a May 31, 2003 article by the New York Times titled “Labor Turns to a Pivotal Organizing Drive.”
Read the full article here. Ted Kennedy is the low mark of the American electoral system. But while he and all other Democrats hypocritically support this bill, Fred Thompson does not. And in his usual clear prose, Fred tells us why:
There was a time in America when local governments and employers could take advantage of powerless workers. Unions formed as a result. Nowadays, government generally sides with, instead of against, unions. The single biggest advantage unions have, of course, is collective bargaining rights – the right to negotiate for whole groups of employees.

Even with these advantages, however, unions have been losing membership in every sector but government -- which is another story. In the last 25 or so years, private sector union membership has dropped from about 19 percent to under 8 percent today. Most decertification votes, giving workers the chance to end union representation, go against the unions.

One reason unions have alienated potential members is that they often focus on politics instead of supporting their members. Last week, in fact, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against a Washington state teachers union that had been spending dues on political activities -- against the wishes of individual teachers. Some of those who protested the use of the funds weren't even union members but had to pay to keep their teachers' jobs.

This week, though, the unions are going to try something that could reverse their long decline. The Senate will vote on a measure the House has already passed that would do away with secret ballots on votes to unionize. This would allow union officials to visit individual workers separately to persuade them to sign a card in favor of the union. Given the rather colorful history of some labor unions, it’s not hard to understand why so many people think this is a very bad idea.

Nevertheless, the current congress may in fact pass it. Unions give a lot of their members'-- and nonmembers'-- dues to political candidates, and they're really good at providing free labor to campaigns. So they have a lot of influence in certain parts of congress. That may explain, for example, why the House Appropriations Committee is apparently planning to cut the budget of the Office of Labor Management Services -- the office that investigates illegalities by unions.

Let me restate the obvious. In America, we need the right to join a union. We also need the right not to join a union.
Read the entire article here.


JonPalewicz said...


Support For The EFCA in 2008 Needs To Be Both Stronger And Smarter

Although its temporary demise will be unfortunate, I think that it’s also OK that, despite the intense national debate over the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 (EFCA) since the Democrats’ victory in the November 2006 elections, the proposal is dead in the water until Bush 43 leaves the White House forever. He would surely veto this congressional session’s EFCA if it ever made it to his desk, and no one is pretending that sufficient votes exist in the current Congress to override that veto.

When the EFCA debate cycles around again after the November 2008 national elections, I believe that we in the progressive and democratic union movement should be prepared to try to much more effectively persuade the American public that the proposal is a good idea for them as well as for us. In part, we should do so by directly addressing two important points that were under-researched, rationalized or simply ignored during the recent period of debate.

The first of the two points we should be ready to better address is that of the bosses’ recent and ceaseless drumbeat about the sanctity of “their workers” right to secret ballot elections about “going union,” supposedly with their votes cast confidentially after their carefully listening to both sides of the issue.

The employers premised the above position upon exaggeration and malarkey.

The employers chorus conveniently did not state, and nobody on the pro-EFCA side seems to have caught or challenged them with, the parallel legal fact that currently, under the very law (the National Labor Relations Act) that the employers insist upon keeping intact due to its secret ballot provisions, their anti-union forces can soon start to torpedo most any “go union” election result without the nicety of “their workers” having a say in that decision through another secret ballot election.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the federal courts long have held that an employer may even rely upon its own polling of a bargaining unit as a basis upon which to seek to not have to further deal with a union. Obviously, the taking of an opinion poll by an employer is hardly any more secret a process than the securing of a signed union authorization card by a union organizer.

For example, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held, as recently as April 16, 2007, that:

"Accordingly, because a Board-certified election is not the only legitimate method for withdrawing recognition from a Union, it was not error for the Board to decline to require one here." [East Bay Automotive Council v. NLRB, No. 04-74997, pp. 4300-4301]

What’s more, in making the above statement, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cited and relied upon a prior holding of the United States Supreme Court that:

"{U}nder longstanding precedent of the [Board], an employer who believes that an incumbent union no longer enjoys the support of a majority of its employees has three options: to request a formal, Board-supervised election, to withdraw recognition from the union and refuse to bargain, or to conduct an internal poll of union support for the union." [Allentown v. NLRB 522 U.S. 359, 361 (1998)]

The next time the EFCA debate rolls around, the point should be made over and over again that the EFCA is an important step to stop employers from continuing to enjoy the best of both worlds, namely that it presently is unfairly difficult for workers to form unions and it is also unfairly easy for those same unions to then start to be ignored or busted by hostile and resentful employers.

The second of the two points that we should be better ready to address is that, with all anticipated nay saying and criticism about this point from our side not withstanding, more than a few persons in our organized labor movement, despite usually the best of deep-seated motivations, are often still prone to engage in many, to be kind, “overly enthusiastic tactics” in securing the desired results in various campaigns.

Since most of the proposed EFCA’s card signing and other organizing procedures will be transparent (i.e. most everyone at a worksite can and probably will know who signed and who didn’t sign union cards), the procedures used to obtain those authorization cards should always be above both legal challenge and ethical reproach. Protections should be built into the EFCA, as well as into unions’ organizing policies, to insure that all EFCA “go union” card signatures are obtained only through laudable and exemplary persuasive techniques that are openly fair and democratic, rather than through the use of excessive peer pressure, veiled threats, harassment, lying, or other repulsive tactics. Those latter tactics are undoubtedly almost as unpalatable to the public, and to many potential members, as are employers’ anti-union tactics such as using captive audience meetings, phony plant closure threats, deportation threats, and firings of key pro-union activists and supporters in order to defeat an organizing campaign.

I’ve been a dues-paying union member in San Francisco since 1971, and a member of the Advisory Board of The Association for Union Democracy for over a decade. I regret that I still periodically see, or read or hear about, quite a few of the same above-mentioned, sleazy, disrespectful and intimidating practices by union staff and members in organizing campaigns, internal union elections, strike votes, ratification votes, dues and bylaw votes, etc., that I first saw more than three decades ago. The public, as well as our own potential new members, must be assured that strong steps will be taken to jettison these counter-productive activities if and when the EFCA becomes law. I also happen to think that it is important that our movement publicly adopt this position no matter what, and regardless of the EFCA’s eventual fate, if our organized labor movement is ever to regain, or even surpass, our former sterling reputation and image as the working person’s champion in the minds of the majority of the American public.

In Solidarity,

Jon Palewicz, J.D.

Former Organizer, California Faculty Association (CFA); and

Retiree, Unite Here! Local 2

San Francisco, California

scott said...

Thank you for your comment. While the desirability of unions can certainly be debated by reasonable people - and while I will admit that unions have played an important role historically in addressing some of the worst aspects of capitalism, I can see no case under which a secret ballot should ever be taken away as a right for a worker. None.

If what Labour seeks to do is correct inequities in the NLRB, there are many ways to do that without opening up workers to invidious pressure from union bosses. To claim otherwise is pure prevarication.

JonPalewicz said...


Dear Scott,

I too believe strongly in the secret ballot process.

I also believe that workers at a jobsite should not have to be subject to 'invidious pressure' either by a union's staff or by a company's managers and supervisors when the employees are making their individual decisions about either getting into or getting rid of a union.

To me, secret balloting is by far the best way to decide either question, rather than polls, authorization or deauthorization cards, or any of that other 'open air' stuff by either side. Far secondary to that, I believe that similar tools whatever they may be, that level the playing field should be available to both sides.

I would be really pleased to hear, in a candid on both sides national debate, Management challenge Labor to drop its 'open air' card check proposal by admitting that it, Management, currently does have and does use 'open air' non-secret ballot tools, such as the polling that I mentioned in my previous post, that it would be willing to give up in return.

Both sides could and should frame this important debate a lot better than they have so far.


Jon Palewicz
San Francisco


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