Going Ballistic on Card Check

Today’s Wall Street Journal, in an editorial, notes organized labor’s latest hardball tactic in its effort to help enact the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, H.R. 1409), which would effectively replace secret ballot organizing elections with the card check process — whereby union organizers ask employees to sign union cards out in the open. Essentially, some unions want the Treasury Department to muzzle companies that have received any funds under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to keep from lobbying against EFCA.

We wrote on February 13 about the letter from the labor consortium Change to Win to the Financial Services Roundtable, demanding that banks receiving Troubled Asset Relief Program money keep quiet about union “card check.” To its credit, the banking lobby hasn’t backed down. Now Big Labor is escalating, demanding in a February 23 letter to Secretary Timothy Geithner that Treasury muzzle the companies if they won’t muzzle themselves.

“Firms receiving significant TARP assistance continue to lobby against the interests of hard working taxpayers,” says the letter from Change to Win Chair Anna Burger. “For example, these firms continue to oppose legislation that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage loan terms, establish a Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights and protect consumers from corporations that bury mandatory arbitration clauses in fine print.”

Imagine that: Banks are daring to fight legislation that would reduce their profitability — and at a time when our public officials say they are desperate for banks to earn themselves out of trouble.

The TARP may be flawed policy, and this kind of partisan bullying can only make it worse.

Yet there’s another way in which EFCA supporters are taking the gloves off. With the possibility that Senate Democratic leaders may not have enough votes in  to end a Republican-led filibuster, EFCA supporters are peddling forcefully their biggest whopper of a distortion yet: That EFCA would preserve secret ballot organizing elections as a viable option. The Service Employees International Union argues:

Corporate interests are bent on lying about the Employee Free Choice Act – they’d have you believe that the bill means the end of the secret ballot – but nothing could be further from the truth. The Employee Free Choice Act simply gives employees the choice to join unions – not the employers.

Meanwhile, a statement from the office of House sponsor Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), says:

The bipartisan Employee Free Choice Act simply gives workers the choice of whether to form a union either through majority signup or an NLRB election.

Well, no, it doesn’t. It gives union officials the choice of which organizing methods to pursue. The bill unequivocally states:

If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a).

Under EFCA, union organizers can simply go back to the workers until they get to 50 percent-plus-one. For all of Rep. Miller’s and SEIU’s pointing to EFCA not explicitly abolishing secret ballot organizing elections in all cases, the process the bill creates would effectively make secret ballot elections a dead letter,  especially since unions have every incentive to go the card check route. (The version of EFCA in the last Congress featured the same language.)

Finally, there is a party whose interests not only have been ignored during much of the debate over this legislation, but are also the most under threat: Employers. EFCA would create a system in which employers would have no say in how they run an important part of their business.

EFCA supporters may deny it all they want, but look at what they actually say. SEIU states it wants unionization to be “the employees’ choice, not the employers.” [Emphasis added.] George Miller’s office decries the fact that, “employers can veto workers’ decision (sic) to organize through majority signup and force them into the divisive NLRB election process.” The same statement then goes on to give a nod to the  virtues of having the same “divisive NLRB process” it derides as an option, by claiming that EFCA doesn’t really do away with it.

There is no consideration here of who actually owns the business in question. As long as a business stays within the bounds of law and morality, under what definition of business ownership does the owner not have the last word? EFCA supporters will deny that they want to undermine business owners’ rights, but that is exactly what this bill would do.

For more on card check, see here and here.