Jan 2, 2009

Free Choice? Really?

Ask anybody who knows me whether I voted for Obama and you will get a resounding yes. I agree in principle with nearly 100% of his positions. But there is one stance he has taken on an important piece of legislation that I can not agree on. I disagree with him so strongly that during his campaign I sent him an e-mail expressing my concerns. I got a nice automated response back thanking me for my input and requesting a donation, but I felt better having sent the email.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would change the rules governing unionization of the workplace. The current system works like this:

* Union organizers get employees to sign “Authorization Cards” where they express their desire for union representation. The requirement is 30% but most unions will not proceed unless they have over 50% because campaigns are costly.

* Companies can, and usually do, decline to recognize the union and then the union petitions the NLRB for an election.

* During the 30-60 day wait the company and union have the opportunity to present their cases to the workers.

* A federally supervised secret ballot election is conducted. If a majority of the workers elect union representation the company must recognize the union as the worker’s bargaining agent.

Now, I was raised in a union household. I have actually walked a few picket lines with my father. One of my father’s proudest moments was when he was dragged away by the police while picketing on the Detroit Free Press strike line. I believe that most, if not all, of the workplace regulations and reforms would not have been implemented if it were not for the labor movement in this country.

The EFCA would eliminate the NLRA election process. All the union would need is “Check Cards” from a majority of the bargaining unit choosing union representation and the company would be forced to recognize the union. This goes too far in my opinion.

Here are my issues with this proposed change. The company would have no chance to make its case against union representation. The argument that the unions make is that employers lie and misrepresent the unions when they meet with employees. They also claim that companies fire employees who support the union during this period. Actually, there are very strict rules about what companies can say and do during the election period. Violations come with hefty penalties, as they should.

On the flip side of this, I have seen some of the literature produced by unions during an organizing effort and they stretch the truth and take things out of context. They also do not communicate any of the negatives that come along with union representation. The company should be allowed the opportunity to address the allegations made during the campaign. Check cards would leave the door wide open for unions to pressure, intimidate and coerce worker’s to sign the cards.

The fact is that the unionized workforce has decreased for an all time high of 35% in the 40’s to about 12% currently, with a majority of them being public/government employees. With the improvements in working conditions and safety regulations the benefits of union membership have diminished. The EFCA is a way for unions to bolster their numbers (READ DUES).

Bottom line is that under the current system bad employers lose union elections and good employers win them because the workers step behind the curtain and vote the way they really feel. Secret ballots are good enough for our general elections and they ought to be good enough for union elections.

Obama has voiced strong support for this bill. It won in the House a few years ago but didn't get by the Senate. The buzz in the papers is that it probably won't be high on the agenda because of all the more pressing issues that will be facing Obama when he takes office. But, the unions won't let it die and will be pushing for it in the next year or so.

1 comment:

  1. My dad was a union man for 35 years.
    I never had much use for 'em,but it doesn't seem right that they wouldn't have secret bolloting.