Friday, November 21, 2008

There is a curiously dated logic in unions insisting that Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which belies the back and forth accusatory rhetoric of intimidation between business and big labor. There are two principal methods for employees to join and command employers to recognize their union’s collective bargaining request. First: Company workers can get at least 30 percent of their colleagues to sign petition cards requesting representation, send the cards to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and have them oversee a secret ballot election. Second: If more than half of the workers sign up for representation, a union is deemed legitimate through “card check” procedures without Labor Relations getting involved at all, but the employer has the right to request a secret ballot election.

Union leadership seems to believe that mandating card check and removing the employer’s right to request a secret-ballot election will somehow reflexively grow their numbers now and into the future to the 35 percent national representation they enjoyed in the 1970s. “We believe that it is integral to fixing the economy,” said William Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO in a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times this week. “We hope it will be among the first bills to move through Congress. I have no doubt that it will pass and it will be signed.”

Card check won’t do anything to fix the economy, and the reality is most unions are created through the secret ballot process ,not because the employer objected to the card check but because union members prefer the outright legitimacy of the NLRB election.

Mr. Samuel chastised Republicans, even though some support the measure (Arlen Specter was a co-sponsor and introduced the bill) and called business’ arguments for the secret ballot a way to preserve their ability to “browbeat the workers.” “Companies are not going to provide guaranteed health insurance, job-sight safety and pensions on their own, they have to be made to do it,” Mr. Samuels said. To some extent he is right.

But many of the Republicans who filibustered the Free Choice bill in 2007 were from right-to-work states in the South where the state ensures that employees get health insurance and job-site safety, and 401(k) retirement packages. What they don’t want is the unions coming in usurping the state’s authority, and to a great extent they are right.

This isn’t a partisan issue, and in truth it shouldn’t be one. There is really no proof that nonunion workers would organize even with card check. If they did, most would probably still want the vote. The AFL-CIO and other unions have had no success organizing workers in the tech industry, and their traditional manufacturing base is dwindling. The unions should stop using card check as a wedge issue to disguise their failure to be forward thinking.

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