Birmingham News Takes on Phony Card Check Arguments

From the Birmingham News:

The good news for Alabama union membership is bad news for state and national union leaders.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of union members in Alabama increased fairly significantly from 2008 to 2009. (See story here.) The portion of the state’s work force that is in a union rose from 9.8 percent in 2008 to 10.9 percent in 2009. The same report noted union membership was stable across the nation at 12.3 percent for 2009, essentially the same as 2008.

Alabama is the only state in the Southeast with double-digit union membership. A likely reason this good news for organized labor is being greeted with such surprise is that it works against the storyline unions want Americans to believe right now.

Unions are trying to get the Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama to go along with a provision that would make it easier for them to organize a workplace. The so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” still is organized labor’s No.1 priority. It’s such a high priority that the AFL-CIO has dropped its longtime support for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and is now backing her challenger, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, in this year’s Arkansas Democratic primary.

Union leaders should reassess their goals. Even with a heavily Democratic Congress, they haven’t been able to convince the honorables to tilt the playing field toward their favor. More than anything, the union leaders want Congress to approve something called “card check,” which would allow a union to organize a workplace by getting more than 50 percent of the workers at a particular company to sign a card asking for representation. That basically gets rid of the longstanding tradition of the secret ballot under current rules.

Right now, it takes only 30 percent of the workers in a company to ask for a union vote, but that vote is by secret ballot, as it should be. That way, neither management nor the union bosses can exert undue pressure. It’s easy to see how the card-check system, where a worker is asked to sign the membership card immediately, in front of colleagues, might be intimidating.

Back to Alabama, where instead of union membership declining, membership is increasing, even as unemployment continues to rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership climbed by 10,000 workers in 2009, to a total of 181,000. The number of state residents represented by unions (they’re covered by union contracts but are not official union members) rose to 212,000, or 12 percent of all state workers.

Alabama’s percentage of union workers is more than double border states Tennessee (5.1 percent), Mississippi (4.8 percent) and Georgia (4.6 percent). Alabama’s story doesn’t help the unions make their case.

With Congress expected to become more Republican after this year’s elections, union leaders know they’re running out of time on this lousy card-check idea.