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Fight over Unionization Methods Stirred by Both Sides*

by Brendan Coyne
NewStandard Staff contributed to this piece.

*A correction was appended to this news report after initial publication.

Mar. 22, 2006 – Two statements released by very different groups yesterday offered divergent views adding to a growing debate over whether workers should be permitted to unionize without holding secret-ballot elections.

In recent years, workers attempting to unionize have increasingly tried to use "card-check elections," rather than secret balloting, to determine if workers want union representation. Several studies have shown that the process results in more union victories and reduces the resources needed to unionize.

Under the card-check process, if a simple majority of workers sign cards affirming a desire to have union representation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the results and the union officially represents the workers. As labor law currently stands, employers must agree to allow card-check elections before they can be implemented. The process almost always goes hand-in-hand with a neutrality agreement, in which the employer agrees not to actively oppose organizing efforts.

Union organizers prefer card-check elections, arguing they are faster and easier to implement and do not require quorum participation in a specific event.

But a recently formed anti-union think tank, the Center for Union Facts, yesterday released the results of its own study on card-check elections, with results suggesting that the method may not be palatable to the majority of US residents. The group’s poll was conducted last Saturday by the Opinion Research Corporation, an international marketing company, spokesperson Sarah Longwell told The NewStandard.

According to the Center, which does not release its funding sources but has indicated business backing, about three-quarters of those surveyed said secret-ballot elections were the best means for evaluating workers’ desire to unionize. Just 12 percent selected card-check elections as most appropriate.

The poll’s singular question asked 1,000 randomly phoned American adults which voting method is "the most fair and democratic." The choice offered was between a "traditional secret ballot election similar to how we elect government officials" or a "petition-style process called ‘card check’ where votes are publicly known." The response "don’t know" came in second place, favored by 13 percent of respondents, who may or may not have been workers themselves or had any familiarity with the choices offered.

In a press release announcing the poll results, the Center’s executive director, Richard Berman, said the numbers should "prove a serious rebuff to the union officials pushing for increased reliance on card checks as the means by which a union is put into power."

Longwell said card-check elections were too susceptible to coercion by union organizers, while the secret ballot protects workers from both sides.

The Center, which Tuesday proclaimed itself engaged in an "assault against union officials’ anti-democratic organizing methods," did not explain why it considered people unfamiliar with a process to be appropriate judges of the two unionization procedures. Longwell simply explained, "We really just wanted to see what the general feeling of the country was."

While both balloting and card-check elections are permissible under US labor law, unions contend that the latter levels the balance of power between employees and their bosses. Last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that card-check procedures result in union wins in about 78 percent of elections, compared to union wins in little more than 65 percent of elections that employ balloting.

In defense of card-check elections yesterday, the AFL-CIO-backed organization American Rights at Work released the results of a study showing that firings, bribery and harassment are rampant in ballot elections.

Conducted jointly by professors from Rutgers University and Jesuit Wheeling University, the American Rights at Work study surveyed 430 workers from worksites that had held either card-check or secret-ballot elections in 2002.

The study found that pressure from all sides, employers, coworkers and unions, was far less in card-check elections than balloting, with management interference twice as likely in the latter.

"While we polled workers on union and employer coercion, it's important to note that they aren’t equivalent," said Dr. Jill Kriesky, one of the study’s authors. "Pro-union workers and union organizers attempt to make their case persuasively. But when the person who signs your paycheck calls you into his office and tells you he’s against the union, that's an entirely different kind of influence."

The report relayed conclusions quite similar to those found in three separate studies released over the past five years. In 2000, Human Rights Watch released a 320-page-study of workers’ rights in the US and found that management frequently violates employees’ rights during unionization campaigns, oftentimes harassing, spying on and threatening workers to vote against unionization.

An unrelated report released the same year by Cornell University labor researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner found that the majority of medium and large employers faced with unionization campaigns take aggressive measures to undermine collective bargaining. Most hire consultants and engage in tactics such as forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings and requiring supervisors to actively oppose unionization.

Bronfenbrenner’s study also found that, according its random sample of 407 campaigns at workplaces with 50 or more workers, employers fire activists in about a quarter of all organizing efforts. About half of the companies threaten workers with the partial or full shut-down of operations should the union prevail in an election, the report noted.

Last December, American Rights at Work released the results a study of Chicago-area organizing campaigns that found employers’ use of illegal anti-union tactics like firings and bribery increased in recent years, as The NewStandard reported. That study was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois–Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development.

CORRECTION

Appending Note:

For a brief period, the wrong draft of this article was posted instead of the final, edited version.

 | Change Posted March 23, 2006 at 09:28 AM EST

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Report originally appeared in the March 23, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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