March 6, 2009
One of these things is not like the other
The election process for deciding union representation under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) bears no resemblance to the elections we have to decide who will hold public office in the United States.
Union elections look more like the sham elections held in a dictatorship than anything we would recognize as a free and fair way to make decisions in a democracy. The process is entirely tilted toward the employer, which is why corporations are so fiercely opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Employee Free Choice Act would take away the employer’s power to force employees into the NLRB election process, which they control.
Instead, workers will be able to decide for themselves whether to take a chance on an election or use majority-sign up (“card check”). With majority sign-up, when a simple majority (or more) of workers sign their name saying they want to form a union, they get their union. Period.
The Employee Free Choice Act does not take away employee’s right to decide using the election process. Given the gross inequities of the NLRB election process, it would not be surprising if most workers opt for majority-sign up. Employers will do anything to prevent workers from being able to make that choice, including spreading misinformation and outright lies about ‘secret ballots’.
It’s no secret who supports the union
The truth is that in order for workers to ask for an election, under the current law, 30 percent have to sign their names saying they want a union. Since 30 percent is no where near enough support to win an election, employees routinely sign-up 60 percent or more of their co-workers before asking for an election.
Why force employees to go through an election process when a majority (or more) have already publicly declared their support for the union? Employers want the time an election process gives them to mount an aggressive, anti-union campaign, using tactics and support from a multi-billion dollar “union avoidance” industry.
Employers can lock out organizers from company property, thereby denying them access to employees when they are together in their normal, working environment. Imagine if one candidate running for public office was only allowed to campaign by making personal visits to every voter’s house, after work, and at night while the other faced no such restriction. Would that be fair?
During the campaign before an NLRB election, employers can force employees to attend captive audience meetings – essentially campaign rallies for management. Refusing to attend these mandatory meetings, which can be held dozens of times or more, could result in termination.
During captive audience meetings, employers can say anything they like because there is no opportunity for union supporters to respond. Employers regularly threaten to close their shops or move operations to another country if the union wins – even though that’s illegal.
Employers routinely threaten to fire employees who support the union – and they do fire them. A new study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds since 2001 that 1 out of 4 employees were illegally fired for trying to exercise their freedom to form a union. The problem of firing workers for wanting a union is getting worse. By 2007, 30 percent of unionization campaigns resulted in at least one worker being fired illegally.
Employer power trumps workers’ rights
There’s nothing fair or free about the elections conducted under the rules of the National Labor Relations Board. Employers hold all the trump cards: the ability to set your working hours, set your pay, discipline you, assign demeaning tasks, cut your benefits, or even take away your job – even though doing so is illegal. The fines and penalties for breaking labor laws are so low as to be meaningless. For many employers, breaking labor laws is the cost of doing business as a union-free operation.
When the time for an election arrives, the only place to cast a ballot is at work, under the watchful eye of the boss. And should the employees vote to have their union, their employer can file lawsuits and appeal the decision for years.
Imagine you voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 Election, but Bill Clinton remained President for the next 8 years while Al Gore filed one appeal after the other in order to overturn the result. That’s how long it can take to certify a union even after a successful ‘Yes’ vote in an NLRB election.
Does that sound anything like the free and fair ‘secret ballot’ election process opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act trumpet as the cornerstone of American democracy?