Who picks your union?

I’ve been involved lately in a little issues advocacy regarding card-check.  Card-check involves a union being able to use a card that workers sign to compel a firm to recognize the union as the sole bargaining agent of the entire shop.  My first post on the subject included Congressional testimony by a former union organizer.

A “card check” campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called “housecalling,” with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards. Called a “blitz” by the unions, it entails teams of two or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers’ personal information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates and other sources that were used to create a master list.

In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get “into the door.” They are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won’t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card.

…From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends organizers out to workers’ homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand.

Now that would seem to be enough for most people to decide we should keep private ballots, but unions have been pushing the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, which would make card-check the law of the land.  (Employers could agree to recognize a union on the basis of cards now if they choose, but are not compelled.)  So the group organized in Minnesota, of which I am chair of its steering committee, started running news ads.  This sufficiently infuriated the local Democratic leadership that they filed a complaint with the Minnesota elections board accusing the two groups and me personally.  Yesterday, that suit was thrown out.  They may refile the complaint against us; we’ll see.

The point remains that a major push for Democratic candidates this year is coming from gobs of union cash — some of it compelled under threat of financial penalties from their locals — and their top goal is to eviscerate the rights of workers to have a secret ballot by which they can decide whether they want to be represented by a union.  They don’t like the heat from Johnny Sac calling them out for what they’re doing.  For more, read here.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Economics and Business, Government
King Banaian
About King Banaian
King Banaian has served as Dean of St. Cloud State University’s School of Public Affairs since July 2014 and has been a Professor of Economics there for three decades. A former State Legislator, he hosts an eponymous talk radio program. He has his MA and PhD in Economics from the Claremont Graduate University. He did a brief guest stint at OTB in July 2008. Follow him on Twitter @banaianshow.

Comments

  1. Tlaloc says:

    Now that would seem to be enough for most people to decide we should keep private ballots,

    I guess I must be atypical because I’m having the hardest time finding what in that statement is damning of unions. They use hard sell techniques. Well, okay.

  2. Tlaloc,

    Imagine if your employer could ‘card check’ for elections. Representatives go around to the cubicles, chat about how things are going at work, mention the party the boss would like to see elected, asked if you had heard the latest rumors on the re-org, and then asked you to sign a card voting straight republican. Would you see anything wrong with that?

  3. spencer says:

    And of course the Republican party does not use any corporate contributions either.

    I come to this blog to see intelligent conservative commentary, why are you ruining your reputation with this junk.

  4. Beldar says:

    Tlaloc, I don’t think you get the underlying concept of the secret ballot. The reason it’s kept secret is to create “plausible deniability.” When the guy comes to break your kneecaps, you can say, “Oh, yeah, hey — absolutely, oh, yeah, I voted the party line! Damn, I have no idea how the bad guys rounded up 70 percent of the eligible voters to go the other way! But I’m one of you guys.” (And you say all this as a lie, to protect your kneecaps, because you previously protected your integrity by secretly voting against the kneecap breaking crowd.)

    Shorter and more conventional formulation: Secret ballots facilitate genuine voting according to one’s principles, uncorrupted by threats.

    This actually isn’t a hard concept to grasp. And that’s why those “Johnny Sac” commercials were so very, very effective — probably the most brilliant issue advertising of the new century to date.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    YAJ:

    Imagine if your employer could ‘card check’ for elections. Representatives go around to the cubicles, chat about how things are going at work, mention the party the boss would like to see elected, asked if you had heard the latest rumors on the re-org, and then asked you to sign a card voting straight republican. Would you see anything wrong with that?

    Eh, not really. It’s not like we don’t get the occassional “we’d really like this issue to go away message from management” with regards to government policies or shareholder voting. As long as I can say no without suffering any reprisals from my boss…

    Beldar:

    Shorter and more conventional formulation: Secret ballots facilitate genuine voting according to one’s principles, uncorrupted by threats.

    True, but secret voting also facilitates vote fraud by the powerful. Gee, I wonder who that could possibly be in this formulation…

    You don’t honestly believe giant corporations give the smallest damn about your kneecaps, right? They don’t, and quite frankly most of them have broken enough to prove that beyond any doubt.

  6. RW Rogers says:

    I thought the Nevada Democratic caucuses demonstrated what union card-check elections will be like. Talk about verbal and physical intimidation (and both campaigns sure did complain about both)!

    The fact remains that only a secret ballot guarantees a free vote. Given who conducts the election, the claim of ballot stuffing is pure poppycock.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    Given who conducts the election, the claim of ballot stuffing is pure poppycock.

    You know given the very public revelations about politicization of the Department of Justice perhaps this isn’t the right moment for blind assurances that our government couldn’t possibly be corrupt.

    Just sayin, is all.

  8. anjin-san says:

    You know given the very public revelations about politicization of the Department of Justice perhaps this isn’t the right moment for blind assurances that our government couldn’t possibly be corrupt.

    Excellent point. My union friends tell me that the amount of paperwork the “Department of Labor” requires them to do has gone up several hundred percent under Bush. I find that interesting, considering how much we hear from the GOP about the need to reduce government regulation, get out of the way and let people work and so on.

    Could it just be that their agenda is to crush anything that counterbalances the power of business?

    Unions have their downside. But, at this point in our countries history, they are doing far more good than harm.

  9. glasnost says:

    Shorter and more conventional formulation: Secret ballots facilitate genuine voting according to one’s principles, uncorrupted by threats.

    Just because this is true in national elections doesn’t make it true in all contexts. What this highly biased and dishonest writeup utterly fails to discuss are the well-documented and utterly typical campaigns of intimidation waged by corporations to sabotage ‘secret ballots’.

    You can’t organize a secret ballot when would be union-organizers – the people who would advocate for said ballot to be held – are immediately terminated with prejudice, sued, denied pensions, actively blacklisted on industry-wide basis, etc, etc. And holding a ‘secret ballot’ with management standing there and threatening to fire the whole team if the answer to “should we unionize” = yes is like holding a ‘secret ballot’ election with the president threatening to kill your families when you vote ‘yes’.

    The point of card check is to make it harder for corporations to be aware of unionization drives before they reach completion, so they can’t be sabotaged through legal and illegal pressure.
    Worrying about *unions* exerting undue pressure on workers through card checks is akin to worrying about a lack of sunlight for the chickens when you close the door to keep the fox out of the eggs – corporations have been doing just that, egregriously, in broad daylight, for decades now.

    What an insultingly mendacious and manipulative presentation of this issue this has been.

  10. Tlaloc,

    And of course you can’t imagine any union that has tracked someone down through their license plate and shown up at their home as having any potential intimidation or threat of reprisal. I mean, who has ever heard of a union being involved in anything the least bit shady or strong arming anyone?

    What if the employer card check elections was only for electing republicans. There is no reverse mechanism for decertifying a union. Still no problem.

    But you seem to be of the liberal persuasion, fair and honest elections isn’t a big priority of the left.

  11. DL says:

    As an ex-union president, I can tell you this much as my opinion. Unions once sought power to remedy abuse, but now they more often seek power for themselves, at the expense and detriment of the corporation, the government agency and unfortunately, the nation, far more than they seek to protect their members. It is unions that are behind much of the “illegals must get amnesty” issue. (Ironically, they are using Black’s dues to lower Black’s wages in order to flood the market with cheaper (dues paying)Spanish workers.)

    Unbelievably, it is the NEA – the head teacher’s union, that supports abortion – the killing off of it’s membership’s future clients.

  12. Bithead says:

    And of course you can’t imagine any union that has tracked someone down through their license plate and shown up at their home as having any potential intimidation or threat of reprisal. I mean, who has ever heard of a union being involved in anything the least bit shady or strong arming anyone?

    Teamsters, anyone?

  13. WR says:

    What’s really fascinating about the right-wing’s hatred of unions is that they’re so convinced that the labor organizations are exactly as they were in the 1950s — huge, powerful organizations, quite probably mob-connected.

    It’s as if they’ve slept through the last forty years of anti-labor governments (Democrat and Republican), dozens of right-wing laws and Supreme Court decisions stripping more and more power away from unions and handing it to corporations. As if they’re completely unaware that union membership is now somewhere in the teens nationally.

    And as if they’ve missed completely the corporate abuses of the last couple of decades — huge corporations violating pay laws, safety law, anti-unon bashing laws — and getting slapped on the wrist for it. Or the way the same corporations have looted their employees’ pension funds while paying their executives tens of millions of dollars.

    In right-wing land, Jimmy Hoffa stands tall, waving that Commie flag, threatening to ban apple pie from the land.

    Oh, and Mr. DL? Yes, we’re all familiar with the “I used to be a liberal, but now I realize they’re evil and GW Bush is Jesus” formulation that’s required for advanced trollery. But the “I used to be a union president, but now I know that organized labor is a vast conspiracy to abort white babies” is too ludicrous for anyone here to buy.

  14. Bithead says:

    What’s really fascinating about the right-wing’s hatred of unions is that they’re so convinced that the labor organizations are exactly as they were in the 1950s — huge, powerful organizations, quite probably mob-connected.

    Perhaps it’s because, protests not withstanding, peopel still ahve enough scar tissue from the last go-round, that they’re not willing to subject themselves again to the possibilies involved with the kind of power such unions weild.

    As if they’re completely unaware that union membership is now somewhere in the teens nationally.

    Oh, I think them quite aware of it. They also know that the lion’s share of union membership is in those places where competition simply cannot exist: Government. Everywhere where unions have a hold on industry, say, for example the American auto industry, such industry becomes singularly uncompetitive, enevually toppling under the weight of exessive union wage and benefit demands. All of that, even excusive of the all-too often shown corruption, rightly strikes fear into the heart of Americans.

    Add the corruption, and saying ‘no’ to unions is a no-brainer if there ever was one.

  15. Bruce Moomaw says:

    …And, needless to say, there have never any countervailing pressures from the companies themselves to tell the employees how to vote:

    “[August 1:] “Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they’ll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies — including Wal-Mart.

    “In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

    “According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores WOULD HAVE TO PAY HEFTY UNION DUES WHILE GETTING NOTHING IN RETURN [capitals mine — Moomaw], and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise…

    “The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don’t specifically tell attendees how to vote in November’s election but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states.

    ” ‘The meeting leader said, “I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won’t have a vote on whether you want a union,” ‘ said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. ‘I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote,’ she said.”

  16. Bruce Moomaw says:

    “Everywhere where unions have a hold on industry, say, for example the American auto industry, such industry becomes singularly uncompetitive, eventually toppling under the weight of excessive union wage and benefit demands.”

    In which case, you know, unions usually tend to back off from said excessive demands when they become aware that those demands are leading to mass layoffs and threatening to put their employers out of business. One would almost think that Bithead lacks faith in democracy.

    Meanwhile, may I suggest that the main valid function of unions is not in setting pay rates or benefits, but in setting working conditions (including safety conditions) in their individual places of employment — something that the nationwide political process is by definition lousy at because of its centralization (that phenomenon that Bithead dreads above all else)?

  17. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Well, that, of course, and their ability to somewhat counterbalance the hugely disproportionate degree of political control that rich people have over the political process simply through their ability to buy both elections and candidates through campaign funds.