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Monday, June 25, 2007

Secret union ballots for me but not for thee

Organized labor was one of the biggest winners of the 2006 mid-term election - as the new Democratic leadership has begun paying off its campaign debt. The House has passed and the Senate is now debating legislation to replace elections with the so-called "card check" process. This would enable labor organizers to intimidate their way to union recognition.

That's not how labor activists put it, of course. But they want to drop today's system, which requires a secret ballot election whenever 30 percent of workers sign a card supporting a union, with automatic recognition if 50 percent plus one workers sign a card.

Card check supporters complain of employer intimidation, yet a secret ballot makes retaliation against rank-and-file workers well-nigh impossible. The National Labor Relations Board reported few cases - less than 2 percent - in which vocal union organizers were fired during 2003-2005.

Yet secret ballot elections limiting opportunities for abuse is the primary reason why organized labor insists on secret ballots for union decertification elections. In a 1998 case the AFL-CIO, citing the U.S. Supreme Court, argued "that a representation election 'is a solemn ... occasion, conducted under safeguards to voluntary choice.'" Moreover, the "representation election system provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are 'the result of group pressures and not individual decision'."

But when it comes to organizing drives, unions have a very different view of "group pressures" — that it's OK for labor activists routinely intimidate workers.

For example, Mike Ivey, a materials handler for the Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation in Gaffney, S.C., sought legal assistance from the National Right Work Legal Defense Foundation in response to pressure from the United Auto Workers.

He said that union organizers misrepresented the significance of signing a card and visited employees at home multiple times. Ivey added that "relentless" union organizers "created a hostile work environment."

Karen M. Mayhew, an employee of Kaiser Permanente in Portland, Oregon, tells a similar tale of fraud and abuse. She explained: "Throughout this whole ordeal, my colleagues and I were subjected to badgering and immense peer pressure."

As long as unions claim that intimidation is not their official policy — and are smart enough to avoid creating any written evidence to the contrary — workers have little recourse, no matter what the real-life cases show.

In a 1996 case a majority of National Labor Relations Board commissioners held that "alleged threats of violence, even when made in the course of card solicitation, cannot be construed by any reasonable person as representing 'purported union policies'."

In that case, a union activist went up to another employee and, reported the NLRB, "allegedly stated that the employee had better sign a card because if she did not, the union would come and get her children and it would also slash her car tires."

Unfortunately, there is little to stop future organizers from making similar threats, especially when a signed card is so much more valuable-yielding full recognition, and not just an election that the union might lose.

Which ultimately is why organized labor desires card check recognition. It is a lot easier to browbeat 50 percent plus one of the employees to publicly sign a card than to get the same number to vote for the union in a secret ballot.

Often employees sign to avoid union pressure, including threats against their children. In some cases, workers sign after being misled by union organizers' claims that the card has no legal effect. Workers can also change their minds after hearing both sides of the debate leading up to the election.

Labor officials might think elections are unnecessary for union recognition, but workers disagree. A Zogby poll found that 84 percent of union members believed employees should be able to vote about joining unions (only 11 percent were opposed).

Ironically, even Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chief House sponsor of card check, believes in labor elections-for other countries.

In 2001 he and 15 of his colleagues wrote the Mexican government to urge it "to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections." In their view, "increased use of the secret ballot in union recognition elections will help bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace."

Unions warrant recognition only if they win a secret ballot election. As the AFL-CIO rightly declared: the "representation election system provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are the result of group pressures and not individual decision." Indeed.

(citizen.com)