Under the threat of a presidential veto, the U.S. House passed the Employee Free Choice Act on Thursday, March 1, a union-supported measure opposed by business interests including the American Trucking Associations, the Truckload Carriers Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
H.B. 800 would allow the collection of a majority of pro-union vote cards to be sufficient to recognize a union in a given workplace. Under current law, unless employers agree to accept the “card-check” outcome, the National Labor Relations Board then schedules and oversees a secret-ballot election, which usually comes 30 days to 50 days later.
Card checks tend to favor union wins about 80 percent of the time, whereas unions tend to win secret ballots only about half the time.
The secret ballot is designed to protect workers from employer intimidation, but union leaders say the intervening month leaves employers free to discourage a “yes” vote by banning union organizers from the premises, threatening to close the plant or boosting pay and benefits. In 2005, more than 31,000 American workers were disciplined illegally or fired for union activity, according to the National Labor Relations Board.
“The current system is broken,” said Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters union. “Workers, after expressing their desire to form a union, usually endure nasty, bruising and lawyer-dominated elections, as the employer fights to block its employees’ choice, often employing illegal tactics such as firing workers.”
Critics say mandatory card checks will cost workers the secret ballot and leave them more open to intimidation, not less.
“These card-check campaigns do not include important protections provided for in law and, as has been demonstrated countless times in actual organizing campaigns, card checks are often accompanied by stories of union coercion, intimidation and abuse,” the Truckload Carriers Association told its membership.
“The card check, by its very nature, makes a worker’s vote completely and utterly public,” wrote U.S. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., in a San Francisco Examiner editorial. “There’s no way around it. Once that card is signed, everyone knows his or her vote – the employer, union organizers, co-workers and the union bosses coordinating the whole process.”
The bill would impose new civil penalties against employers who “willfully or repeatedly” violated workers’ rights to organize. The Bush administration said it is unfair to apply these penalties only to employers and not to union organizers guilty of intimidation.
The bill also would require binding arbitration, good for two years, if a new union can’t agree with management on a new contract within three months.
Today, only 7 percent of private-sector employees in the United States are unionized, the lowest percentage on record. When government employees are counted, the percent of U.S. workers represented by unions is 12 percent. In recent polls, 58 percent of eligible Americans say they would join a union if they could.
H.B. 800 is now on the U.S. Senate’s calendar.