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The most important element of the Employee Free Choice Act is its promotion of the “card check” system of union organizing. The bill would eliminate the requirement of a secret ballot to determine union representation; union organizers would merely have to convince a majority of workers to sign cards indicating they want union representation. That’s not real democracy — workers would trade the privacy of the voting booth for the potential intimidation of co-workers pushing them to sign a card on the spot.
The secret ballot is a core democratic principle, and it amazes us that many members of Congress are willing to eliminate it in a matter as critical as union representation. (Notably, the bill contains no provision allowing workers to use the card-check system to decertify a union, which is a much more difficult process.) We doubt many people, regardless of their ideology, would want to sacrifice the secret ballot when it comes to choosing candidates for political office or deciding on a ballot measure.
Workers shouldn’t have to give up that right either.
(Holland area residents may be familiar with the card-check system because it has been employed by the United Auto Workers in efforts to unionize workers at Johnson Controls factories around the country. The card-check system was permitted under a “neutrality agreement” between the UAW and JCI signed in 2003. The UAW has acknowledged recently launching a unionization drive at JCI’s Southview plant in Holland.)
We are also concerned about another provision of the Employee Free Choice Act. If a union is certified as representing workers, the bill would require contract negotiations to begin within 10 days, and if a contract agreement is not reached in 90 days, the issue would be sent to the federal government for mediation and, ultimately, binding arbitration. Binding arbitration means a contract would be put in place not by employers and unions but by federal bureaucrats who may or may not be familiar with the facts that pertain to a specific company. Further, the fact that the law guarantees that a union will win a contract would unfairly tilt negotiating power in favor of the union, which would have little incentive to bargain in good faith and present its best offer.
The decline of organized labor in America is well documented. Unions now represent about 8 percent of non-public sector workers in the country, and the percentage is almost certainly lower here. That’s due, in part, to the fact that we have been fortunate enough to have, both today and in the past, major employers that have shown sincere respect for their workers and built collaborative workplace relationships that have eliminated any need for union representation.
We believe that honest, cooperative employer-employee relations serve workers better than an adversarial company-union arrangement. However, there are companies that mistreat their workers and violate their trust, and in those situations it is understandable that workers turn to union representation. And we know that some of those companies like to play hardball and use aggressive anti-union tactics that stretch or blatantly violate the law, firing supposed “ringleaders” and threatening to shut down plants if workers unionize. Abusive and intimidating behavior must be dealt with, and if regulators need stronger “teeth” to enforce the law, we should give it to them. But the need for better enforcement hardly justifies a major change in federal law that dramatically shifts union-employer dynamics.
To regain their status, unions will have to reverse a deep and abiding skepticism among millions of workers. A survey by Rasmussen Reports last month showed that American workers are hardly beating down the doors to organize — the poll found that 9 percent of non-union workers were eager to join a union. Instead of relying on favorable legislation from political allies, unions need to demonstrate their value to workers in a fair, democratic process. Congress should not rewrite the rules in their favor.
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