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Workers should have the right to vote

Dan Juneau -   Oct 08, 2009

There is a bill in the U.S. Senate that would radically alter the process for deciding whether a union will represent you at the bargaining table with your employer.

That bill’s sole purpose is to provide unions greater leverage in labor/management relations.  And while the health care issue has understandably dominated the public’s attention, you should keep an eye on this issue, too.

Lately, the debate over health care has pushed virtually everything else in Congress to the back burners. 

Nevertheless, unions and their allies in Congress want to force a vote on their bill.  Last week, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D – Iowa), said that he was still hoping to bring the bill up for a vote this fall.  However, the unions have to clear a significant hurdle first.  They must secure 60 votes from among the country’s 100 senators to avoid a guaranteed filibuster by opponents.

All 40 Republican senators are against this bill, which means that all 60 Democratic senators are needed to invoke cloture to prevent the filibuster.  While most of the Democrats would vote to do this, a number of moderate Democratic senators have not signed onto this bill, including Louisiana’s Sen. Mary Landrieu.  Her reluctance is understandable–and commendable.

S. 560 was named the Employee Free Choice Act by its authors, but it is more commonly referred to as “card check” because it would essentially eliminate secret ballot elections and replace them with an open card registration procedure known as card check.  Existing law allows workers to hear both sides–as they would in an election campaign–and then to privately decide in a voting booth whether they want union representation.  S. 560 seeks to change the rules for union organizing campaigns so that workers only get the union’s side of the story.

Currently, unions wanting to obtain bargaining rights hire organizers to solicit workers’ signatures on cards authorizing a union certification election.  If 30 percent of the workers sign the cards, the union can petition the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election, which it supervises to assure that neither the employer nor the union intimidates the workers.

Many workers are not interested in being represented by a union, but will sign the cards so organizers will leave them alone.  When the election is held, they then vote against unionization. That is why the standard goal of organizing campaigns is to collect signatures from 75 percent of workers.  Unions will always choose card check because they already collect more than a majority of signatures anyway. 

So, S. 560 would effectively eliminate the secret ballot election procedure.

The inability of union leaders to secure outright support for S. 560 from Sen. Landrieu and other moderate Democratic senators like her has prompted Sen. Harkin and a handful of other supportive senators to attempt to develop an alternative approach to overcome their reluctance.  Yet, the only alternative that would satisfy union leaders will be one that rigs the game and keeps workers from getting the full story before deciding to allow a union in their workplace.

The existing law is fair and protects workers from being unduly pressured by their employers or union organizers.  S. 560 was not brought by a host of workers begging to have the law changed, but by union leaders who see their membership sinking as workers find unions less relevant and beneficial in today’s economy.  Senator Landrieu would be wise not to support cloture on this bill or on any variation of it that the union leadership would support.

Jim Patterson, LABI’s Vice President of Governmental Relations and Employee Relations Council Director, contributed to this column.

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