House Checks Workplace Democracy at the Door

The U.S. House of Representatives today approved, by a 241-185 vote, the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800), which would destroy secret ballot protections in union organizing drives. As I commented earlier, this provides President George W. Bush with an opportunity to reenergize the conservative Republican base — by vetoing this terrible bill. Now that the House Democrats have rammed this through, the conservative commentariat is making much indignant noise about this, which reinforces the argument that a card check veto presents Bush with a great political opportunity — beginning with today’s Washington Examiner op ed by House Education and Labor Committee ranking minority member Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R.-Calif.), which I cite in an earlier post.

At The Washington Times, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), also a member of the House Education and Labor Committee, decries the political payoff aspects of this bill:

“Not even two months into the new Congress, the bipartisan facade of the highly poll-tested, heavily orchestrated first 100 hours is a distant memory. The real agenda of the new Democratic majority is coming to light, and many of the special interests that helped rally support for Democratic candidates during the last election cycle are lining up to cash in.

“At the front of the line: Big Labor.”

(In fact, the payoff is so transparent that the Associated Press reported it as follows: “Democrats rewarded organized labor Thursday for helping them retake control of Congress, passing a House bill that would make it easier to start unions against companies’ wishes.”)

At National Review Online, Navigators LLC principal (and CEI alumnus) Cesar Conda and American for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist note why the unions are so bent on getting their way on this bill:

“To hear the Democrats tell it, the election was about the war in Iraq, middle class angst at home, and corruption.’ For their biggest funders and paid volunteer-providers, though, the election was about something very different. Big Labor has seen a precipitous decline in union membership, falling from 39 percent of the private-sector workforce in 1958 to just 7.4 percent today — that’s a decline of over 80 percent in just 50 years. In a few years, a majority of union members will be government bureaucrats. Every year, thousands of members active in the 1950s retire. If something is not done to stem the tide of membership losses, Big Labor will find itself sleeping with the fishes.”

At TCSDaily, Joel Mowbray dissects organized labor’s motivation in pursuing card check through legislation, which is “If you can’t win, change the rules”:

“How do Democrats dare call this a ‘free choice’ act? Big Labor and various Democrats have offered two main justifications: 1) forcing employees to wait weeks or months before voting in a government-supervised election is an unnecessary delay when over half the workforce has signed cards, and 2) during the waiting time for an election, employers have free reign to ‘scare’ employees out of supporting the union.

“The AFL-CIO has gone even further than most Congressional Democrats, calling unionization elections ‘undemocratic.’ The union umbrella organization claims that the rules are stacked against them, even though anecdotal evidence suggests many corporations allow outside organizers—people who do not work for the company—to enter their private property and chide workers to sign pledge cards.

“Perhaps the real reason unions consider elections ‘undemocratic’ is that they lose almost half of them. And those are only the elections that actually happen. Currently, unions can call for an election if 30% of workers sign a petition or a card supporting a unionization vote. But when a union doesn’t see enough momentum heading into the balloting, it often rescinds its request to save face. Nearly half of filed-for elections are canceled.

“In other words, unions win somewhat more than one-fourth of all elections for which they file.”

So why does card check favor unions so much? Because, unlike secret ballot elections, it’s conducted out in the open, as Philip Klein notes at The American Spectator, which exposes workers to intimidation, a fact he illustrates with a disturbing anecdote:

“As someone who once had the misfortune of being a member of a union as part of my contract with a former employer, I can personally testify to the power of good old-fashioned peer pressure. When my union was in contract negotiations, it asked its members to participate in a silly ritual in which everybody wore red union shirts at the office to show their solidarity. Given my political tendencies, I refused to participate in such a nonsensical exercise. As a result, co-workers would repeatedly stop by my desk in an effort to cajole me into putting on the shirt, while others would simply roll their eyes or look at me in disgust as they passed me. While I never submitted to their demands, virtually everyone else in the office did, including many who privately expressed to me their opposition to the union and recognized the absurdity of such a childish display.”

Finally, all of the above writers note the hypocrisy of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, in sponsoring this bill. In 2001, Miller and 15 other House Democrats wrote to a Mexican labor arbitration board arguing for the secret ballot:

“As members of Congress of the United States who are deeply concerned with international labor standards…we are writing to encourage you to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections.

“We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required, by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose…

“[W]e feel that the increased use of the secret ballot in union recognition elections will help bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace.”

So workplace democracy is good enough for Mexican workers but not for American ones? (Miller’s bill retains the secret ballot process, which is slower than card check — but much fairer — for union decertification elections.)

This is bad enough, but Miller today has the audacity to claim that, “In many places, when you exercise your right to organize, you get fired, you get intimidated, you get harassed, you get followed home.” Workers get intimidated, harassed, and followed home during union organizing drives, alright, but it’s not usually employers doing this, which appears to be Miller’s implication.

Consider the February 8 testimony before Miller’s committee of Jennifer Jason, a former union organizer for UNITE-HERE, who left that job in disgust at other organizers’ “disgraceful practices”:

“A ‘card check’ campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called ‘house calling,’ with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards…

“In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get ‘into the door.’ They are trained to perform a five-part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won’t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card…Typically, if a worker signed a card, it had nothing to do with whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were treated fairly by his or her boss. I found that most often it was the skill of the organizer to create issues from information the organizer had extracted from the worker during the ‘probe’ stage of the house call that determined whether the worker signed the card. I began to realize that the number of cards that were signed had less to do with support for the union and more to do with the effectiveness of the organizer speaking to the workers.

“This appears to be consistent with results of secret ballot elections that are conducted in which workers are able to vote and make their final decision free from manipulation, intimidation or pressure tactics from either side.

“From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count…The time allocated for the election to go forward allows the worker a chance to think through his or her own issues without undue influence thus avoiding an immediate, impulsive decision based on little or no fact…

“As an organizer working under a ‘card check’ system versus an election system, I knew that ‘card check’ gave me the ability to quickly agitate a set of workers into signing cards. I did not have to prove the union’s case, answer more informed questions from workers or be held accountable for the service record of my union.

“When the union is allowed to implement the ‘card check’ strategy, the decision about whether or not an individual employee would choose to join a union is reduced to a crisis decision. This situation is created by the organizer and places the worker into a high-pressure sales situation. Furthermore, my experience is that in jurisdictions in which ‘card check’ was actually legislated, organizers tended to be even more willing to harass, lie and use fear tactics to intimidate workers into signing cards. I have personally heard from workers that they signed the union card simply to get the organizer to leave their home and not harass them further. At no point during a ‘card check’ campaign, is the opportunity created or fostered for employees to seriously consider their working lives and to think about possible solutions to any problems.