The Employee Free Choice Act, possibly the most contentious issue Congress will face in this term, was filed Tuesday (Mar. 10) by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
The act seeks to make it easier for unions to organize, although a former president of a union in Fort Smith thinks the law is flawed.
The most controversial part of the Act would allow the designation of a union if a majority of employees sign pro-union authorization cards. Once the National Labor Relations Board validates the signatures, a union is created and collective bargaining with the employer begins.
The process is not so simple under current law. Today, if workers want to form a union, they need 30 percent of employees to sign authorization cards. With that 30 percent, the NLRB schedules a election — an election supervised by the NLRB under a complex set of rules intended to protect employees and employers from intimidation, coercion, etc. — and employees use secret ballots to vote up or down on union representation. Also, both sides have several avenues in which they can protest or appeal the outcome of the election.
The “Card Check” provision is so significant, i.e., controversial, that many of those for and against the Act refer to the entire Act as the “card check bill.”
Union officials justify the card check change by arguing that the process to reach a private ballot is flawed in favor of employers. Opponents of card check simply cite the private ballot as a fundamental, if not sacred, component of a democratic society.
However, the law does eliminate the secret ballot process if enough workers sign a card signifying their support for a union. Although only a limited number of people review the card-signing process, the choice made by the worker is not necessarily private.
The union attempt to discount the issue of the secret ballot has been tough. George McGovern, acknowledged pro-union liberal and former Democratic candidate for president, is featured in a television commercial opposing card check because of his belief in the secret ballot.
A national survey sponsored by the American Trucking Associations — which opposes card check — suggested that 74% of surveyed union households oppose card check.
‘NOT GOOD FOR UNIONS’
And then there is Neal Catlett, a former president of the union representing workers at Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant who has more than 20 years of leadership experience in the local union.
Catlett, now retired from Whirlpool, opposes card check. He told The City Wire that he has seen plenty of “nonsense” among Whirlpool leaders and union leaders to know that anything other than a secret ballot will lead to intimidation, coercion and corruption on all sides.
“I strongly support secret ballots. Period. It doesn’t matter at what level, whether it is voting for a union or the president or your congressman,” Catlett said. “Your ideas should be personal as to if you want a union or don’t want a union.”
Catlett doesn’t argue with union leaders who say the current labor rules make it too tough and are tilted in the favor of business. But he says card check is the wrong way to create a more level playing field. And he also says unions use the same coercion and intimidation used by business owners.
“Doing away with the secret ballot is not good for the unions. It’s not good for any business. … Open voting creates an atmosphere of intimidation. It creates an atmosphere where people will use your opinion against you. I’ve seen the threats and I’ve actually seen the physical conflict, if you know what I mean, come from the business side and from the union side,” Catlett said. “I just don’t see how any process that is not private will protect the worker.”