What Unions Should Receive From Their Card Check Crusade

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

The nation’s most powerful labor unions have been lobbying heavily for a law, misleadingly named the Employee Free Choice Act, that would take away workers’ basic rights to a secret-ballot vote on union representation. It would allow unions to organize through a poorly regulated "card check" process instead.

There are degrees of cynicism that even Congress should not be expected to put up with. For reasons of civic sanitation, let alone sound policy, union bosses should be made to walk away empty-handed as support wanes for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a past supporter of EFCA, announced his opposition last month. With a strong Democratic majority in Congress and former cosponsor Barack Obama as president, many pundits expected the bill to pass. But with past supporters such as Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Specter backing down, EFCA in its original form is looking like a loser.

The natural response for union lobbyists will be to pare back EFCA in order to regain votes, or perhaps muddy the waters to blunt heavy public opposition. They should be told, politely but firmly, that there will be no compromises: nuthin’, nada, bupkis. Unions would be well-advised to reform themselves, relearn how to provide effective representation in the workplace and mellow the shrill in their politics. But if they would rather pursue a legislative solution, they should be made to wait a few years, when they can start afresh with a less radical bill backed by a public relations campaign that is not totally lacking in candor.

In making their case for EFCA, unions allege widespread abuses by employers in a run-up to government-run unionization elections. Their claim is mainly based on a poll of union organizers, a group one suspects might have had some biases. Labor leaders’ solution was to replace secret-ballot elections with "card check," in which union representatives collect workers’ signatures on cards. They doggedly pursued this in spite of the fact that they had no evidence, not even a poll of union organizers, that the votes themselves were mismanaged.

Of course, union spokesmen never highlighted this aspect of their proposal — they droned on about "majority sign up" and hoped nobody would notice what it meant. But as the public started putting two-and-two together, and it dawned on union officials that secret ballots were actually popular in a democratic society, the union story shifted. The goal was not to get rid of secret ballots, according to union bosses, they simply wanted workers to have another option when deciding whether or not to have a union. The only problem with this new story was that no one explained how workers would express their preference between secret ballots and card-checks. (Do you have a vote to authorize card-check? Nope, just sign the card and hope that the union organizers will do what’s right.)

In the end, this rationalization fooled no one. Seeing the justifications for card check unraveling, Teamsters President James Hoffa was reduced to arguing that secret-ballot elections were not an important part of democracy, at which point the EFCA drive turned positively postmodern. Specter announced his opposition shortly thereafter.

EFCA also would mandate binding arbitration on first contracts, another provision the need for which was never adequately explained, except for the claim that newly installed unions had difficulties reaching contracts. Contracts being a two-way street, voters and legislators were left to wonder who was being unreasonable in this process: employers or unions? The union movement never bothered to answer.

At no point did the unions backing EFCA say plainly. "This is what we want to do, and this is why we think it’s necessary." The campaign consisted entirely of evasion and euphemism. When that’s all you can rely on to make your case, what you have is a bad idea.

Having subjected the country to this embarrassing spectacle over several years, the union movement deserves the most total rebuke possible. Their pursuit of cynical policies that benefit unions at the expense of workers’ rights, mean policymakers should send ’em home empty handed. Maybe they’ll learn something.

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Paul Kersey is Director of Labor Policy for The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, www.mackinac.org. This commentary was published the Commonwealth Foundation(www.CommonwealthFoundation.org), an independent, non-profit public policy education and research institute in Harrisburg, PA..