House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised last November 13 at an AFL-CIO rally that she and the incoming Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would “move on card check.” Less than four months later, she’s delivered. On Thursday, March 1, the House passed legislation by a 241-185 margin that would make it easier for unions to coerce workers into joining. Just two Democrats – Gene Taylor (Mississippi) and Dan Boren (Oklahoma) – crossed party lines to vote against it. The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800), as it is called, sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. (in photo), would force employers to recognize a union as an exclusive bargaining agent if it secures a majority of signatures from affected workers, effectively bypassing the secret-ballot process. The Senate, with a narrow Democrat majority, appears much less likely to pass its own “card-check” bill, despite the aggressive support of Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. And if it does pass such a bill, this one probably will be even less veto-proof than the House version. And President Bush has indicated he will veto the House bill.
Organized labor officials defend card checks as necessary to protect workers from union-busting employers. They insist that obtaining card signatures from workers, whether at their work place, home or elsewhere, is a more simple and fair way of seeking representation than going through a National Labor Relations Board-certified election. Rep. Miller says the electoral process “allows irresponsible employers to harass, coerce, intimidate, reassign and even fire workers who support a union.” Critics of the card check bill retort that the secret ballot is the essence of free choice. “We are standing on this floor, considering this bill, and ultimately, casting our votes at the end of this debate because of the power of the secret ballot,” said Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. “The privacy and sanctity of the secret ballot is the beauty and the backbone of this democratic process.” Critics also note that the National Labor Relations Act from the start has outlawed employer retaliation against workers who try to organize or join a union. The card check bill, they argue, is about granting privileges, not protecting rights.
Card checks, unlike elections, are not federally supervised. That creates a problem for employees who don’t want to join a union at all or at least the union going around collecting signatures. Unions, in fact, have a long track record of turning card checks into vehicles for intimidating workers who say “no.” The 1947 Taft-Hartley amendments to the NLRA, in response to reports of widespread union bullying, contained a provision mandating worker access to the secret ballot. But card check harassment has continued right up to the present. The HR Policy Association, a Washington-based research group, reported in 2004 that card checks often have “resulted in deceptions, coercion and other abuses.” From organized labor’s standpoint, desperate times call for desperate measures. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unions in 2006 represented a mere 12 percent of all U.S. workers, and just 7.4 percent of those in the private sector.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has vowed to oppose the bill. “We will not allow the progress already made on behalf of U.S. workers to be undone, nor will we allow coercion by employers or unions,” he said. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill should it land on his desk. Even if it doesn’t become law this time around, the unions and their Democratic allies are adamant. If the party captures the White House in 2008 while maintaining a majority in both houses of Congress, a card-check law will be all but a done deal. “This issue isn’t going away because the Democrats are starting to believe in it,” remarked Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business professor and a former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. It would appear the party is well past the starting stage. (Washington Times, 3/2/07; other sources).