School’s In: What Ambinder (and America) Still Needs to Learn about Employee Free Choice
I’ll give Marc Ambinder credit, he’s at least trying to understand the details of secret ballot/majority sign-up (or as the wingnuts like to say, "card check"). But he tends to lean a bit heavily on overpaid hacks spreading disinformation on behalf of the business lobby —and therein lies the problem:
The AFL-CIO’s polling firm, Hart Research Associates, asks respondents whether they’d support legislation that "[a]llows employees to have a union once a majority of employees in a workplace sign authorization cards indicating they want to form a union."
75% say yes.
Pollster John McLaughlin, working for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace,the question this way: "There is a bill in Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act which would effectively replace a federally supervised secret ballot election with a process that requires a majority of workers to simply sign a card to authorize organizing a union and the workers’ signatures would be made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Do you support or oppose Congress passing this legislation?"
74% say no.
Fine. You ask the question different ways, you’re going to get different answers. But Ambinder concludes: "The CDW definition includes loaded language implying that their co-workers and bosses could intimidate them into signing the card. Privacy is the killer for unions; when Americans are read descriptions of the bill that make it plain that their votes won’t be kept secret (that’s the point of card check, in a way), their support plummets."
The point of majority sign-up is to make sure that worker’s votes "won’t be kept secret?" In order to understand how knee-deep the bullshit is in that statement, we’ve got to take a little trip into the weeds about how union elections actually work.
This is the "secret ballot" process, which is in place right now:
A union decides they want to unionize workers of a particular company. They have to collect cards signed by more than 30% of that company’s eligible workers saying that they want to join the union and allow that union to negotiate with management on their behalf. The union usually does this by talking to workers and gathering signatures outside the work place, frequently at their homes, because companies have a bad habit of firing workers who try to organize (Dean Baker estimates one in five lose their jobs).
The union then turns the cards over to the NLRB, who verifies them and calls for an election. Now in practice, although the union only has to have cards signed by more than 30% of the workers they usually present 50%, because they know there is going to be intense pressure put on workers by employers and professional "union busters," and they don’t want to waste their time unless they think there is serious support.
The NLRB is required to then set a date for a "secret ballot" election within 42 days, during which time workers are usually subject to various forms of intimidation. It’s easy for employers to ask for and receive extensions, however. When the "secret ballot" election is finally held, it’s conducted on the work premises, and workers have to file past the watchful eyes of their supervisors in order to cast their ballots. This is the "right" to "secrecy" that the anti-union forces seem to be so committed to preserving.
If more than 50% of workers vote to let the union to represent them, the union is recognized and they can begin negotiating with the employer for a first contract.
This is how majority sign-up ("card check") would work under the Employee Free Choice Act:
A union decides they want to unionize workers of a particular company. They have to collect cards signed by more than 50% of that company’s eligible workers saying that they want to join the union and allow that union to negotiate with management on their behalf.
The union then turns the cards over to the NLRB, who verifies them.
If more than 50% of the cards are verified by the NLRB, the union is recognized and they can begin negotiating with the employer for a first contract.
"Secret ballot" isn’t "more secret," it’s an extra step. In both cases, the union is responsible for getting cards signed and turning them over to the NLRB, so they know who has signed them. The "secret ballot" is just an extra hurdle that workers have to surmount if they want to recognize a union.
Today, corporate toady Mike Murphy of CDW writes Ambinder to say that their polling, by McLaughlin and Associates, is probably "far more accurate" because it uses the words "effectively replace a federally supervised secret ballot." Note the introduction of the word "effectively," and what can only be characterized as an abject lie that "workers’ signatures would be made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers." Nothing of the sort ever happens.
In fact, the Employee Free Choice Act allows workers to have a "secret ballot" election if they want one. Woo hoo! Have a party. What Murphy and his fellow hacks don’t say is that when given a choice, most workers probably aren’t going to want one. I’m going out on a limb here to guess that corporate lobbyists are probably more worried about that eventuality than they are defending the rights of poor beleaguered workers.
Update: Guy Molyneux, the AFL-CIO’s pollster, calls bullshit too.