2 + 2 = 5; Coercion = Choice

After much anticipation, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has introduced the Orwellian-monikered Employee Free Choice Act (H.R.800). The aim of this bill is to facilitate union organizing by essentially doing away with secret ballot elections in organizing campaigns in favor of employees signing union cards. Currently, an employer has to agree to a card-check procedure, but this bill would allow unions to circumvent that requirement.

Because cards are signed in public, this exposes workers to high-pressure tactics that secret ballot elections are intended to avoid. For more on this issue, see the section on card-check in part two of my piece, “Big Labor’s Agenda for the 110th Congress,” which illustrates the kind of strong-arm tactics employees could commonly face if card-check becomes routine:

How does card-check work in practice? Consider a union organizing drive at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protection in 2002, MGM Grand employee Bruce Esgar described how union organizers intimidated hotel employees.

Few employees had an incentive to join a union, Esgar observed, because the MGM Grand offered “wages, health benefits and a 401k-retirement plan that far exceeded any union contract in the Las Vegas area,” and “the MGM Grand was a very friendly and relaxed place to work.” So MGM management was in a good position to insist that it would only recognize a union if it organized under a secret ballot election.

But when new management announced that it would recognize a union “card count” to call for an election, said Esgar, “At that point the nightmares began” for MGM workers. Esgar notes:

“When the Culinary Union walked through the door they immediately began telling union followers whom they could talk to and whom they could not associate with. The union representatives had soon divided the workers into two groups, union and non-union, which they quickly labeled as ‘anti-union.’ This label was quickly followed by ‘welfare recipients’, ‘freeloaders’ and of course ‘liars’…

“When the employees wanted to ask questions about the pros and cons about unionizing they soon found that they could only ‘hear’ about the pros.”

According to Esgar, union organizers misled and intimidated MGM employees in various ways. Union representatives told employees that if they didn’t sign the cards they would lose their job after the union became recognized, that they would lose their health and retirement benefits, or that signing the card only constituted a request for more information about the union. Some employees reported having union representatives show up at their homes, sometimes repeatedly.