Lemme ask you a question: Have you ever had a disagreement with someone about something, maybe during a discussion about sports or politics or religion or your personal anatomical preferences concerning members of the opposite sex, or whatever, that got heated–not out-of-control with shouting and threats and flying spittle, but pretty intense? I thought so. Assuming you are capable of rational debate, did that disagreement play out in a back-and-forth consersation where you and the other person presented anecdotes, facts, and opinions in an effort to convince eachother of the rightness of your respective side, and end on a civil, or at least neutral tone? Again, I thought so.
The reason I ask is because I’ve been reading a Townhall.com blog bashing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Between calling it the “Forced Choice Act”, cries of “socialism”, and the false assertion that a secret ballot election is being taken away by EFCA, there’s another canard that bothered me even more: That if EFCA–they call it “card check”, is passed, union thugs or goons will intimidate workers into signing the cards.
If one read the bill, they’d see that EFCA still allows for a “secret ballot” election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If a work unit has more than 30% of workers signing a union organization drive card, but less than 50%, it will get a NLRB “secret ballot” election. The change in labor law comes when a simple majority (>50%) sign cards indicating they want a union. A large majority (over 60%) of polled non-union workers want to form a union. So why don’t they? The answer is that, even though current labor law is so weak it heavily tilts the “playing field” to management, more times than not management breaks labor laws to prevent unions from forming. One in four union organizers are illegally fired during a organizing drives. And it takes years to receive compensation for their illegal firings. All manner of goings-on happen during NLRB elections, such as peculiar power outages that occur just as pro-union workers are about to vote and last through the entire period of their allotted voting time. And there are the technically legal and quasi-legal actions an employer can take to dissuade unionization: mandatory meetings on the dangers of unionization with law firms specializing in union prevention , threats of plant closings if a union is formed, flat-out stalling or changing the date of the NLRB election, etc.
There are a bunch of blogs that counter point-for-point the lies and distortions about EFCA, and the failings of the NLRB and their “secret ballot” elections. But what prompted me to blog is this notion of union intimidation to get cards signed. I know countless op-eds have been written about an AFL–CIO memo or some such thing that acknowledged sometimes people signed cards “just to get the union off their back.” Anti-union groups have speculated that workers gave in and signed the cards, but once they were in the safety and anonymity of a voting booth, they “wisely” voted against the union. This may be the case in a few isolated cases, but for pete’s sake we live in 21st century America, not 1897 America, not 1970’s America, not not some third world hell where union organizers and bosses hack at each other with machetes. Speaking of third world hell, I even read an op-ed where the author quoted a Democratic politician who supports EFCA saying that secret ballot elections in union organizing drives are necessary–in Mexico. Given that there are, how shall I put this, striking differences between the governments, legal system, and law enforcement agencies of Mexico and the US, I don’t see how union drives in Mexico can seriously be compared to union drives in the US.
But let’s think about this “union intimidation” meme a little more, in the context of the here and now: the good old US of A in the year 2009. Let’s say Union ABC is organizing at Factory XYZ. Given that nonpartisan, impartial polling indicates a large majority of workers would vote to join a union if given a chance, why would Union ABC play like Tony Soprano and threaten to bash skulls if workers went against them? Why not just give workers a chance to choose on their own? This seems easier than bashing heads, given that bashing heads for no good reason is illegal, and not bashing the aforementioned heads has the added benefit of keeping one out of jail. Now consider that ZERO Representatives from Union ABC are going to be allowed on the premises of factory XYZ. There is something called private property in this country, and no manager with a brain is going to let professional union organizers set foot on his or her workroom floor, breakrooms, grounds or parking lots. That would mean any intimidation at the workplace would have to come from fellow employees who want a union, and its here where events get really exciting for union-haters: What happens if a pro-union employee at Factory XYZ intimidates another employee at work? Well, If a supervisor sees it or is told about it, the rabble-rousing pro-union employee gets–you guessed it–fired. It is completely legal and proper to sack any bozo that is intimidating his or her fellow employees, and doing so not only subtracts one vote for the union if they get a NLRB “secret ballot” election, but also sends a strong message to other would-be “goons”. (Lets just put aside for the moment the fact that 1 in 4 employees who organize for unions in the workplace are illegally fired, and the chilling effect that firing has on other employees in the workplace.)
The next question we have to ask is, what constitutes intimidation? This is where is I started this post, with a hypothetical disagreement between two parties. Now, we know who those two parties are and what they are disagreeing about: The first, a pro-union organizer at Factory XYZ trying to talk up his coworkers about the benefits of unionization. The second, another employee at Factory XYZ who doesn’t want to join the union for his own reasons. We’ll call the first guy Union Joe and the second guy company man Dave (hereafter, just Joe and Dave). Can Joe engage in a reasonable discussion with Dave about the union without being fired? It seems to me if he can’t we’ve really lost our way as a people and a country. Isn’t vigorous debate necessary for the protection of a democracy, and can’t that same principle be applied to a workplace? Unions ARE workplace democracies, as opposed to corporations, which are dictatorships–or at the very best, oligarchies. Union members vote on their officials and contracts, can run for office, and can attend regular meeting where they can voice their opinions. Employees of corporations do what the boss says, or they are summarily dismissed. Shareholders of publicly-traded companies are afforded little voice in the company, and cede much of their power to boards beholden to the CEO.
Back to Joe and Dave. Joe knows that Dave has some pretty uninformed views of unions from years of listening to Rush Limbaugh, so he passes Dave some literature at lunchtime and asks him to look it over before he passes judgement on Union ABC and refused to sign a union authorization card. Is that intimidation?
The next week, Joe and Dave have a disagreement about the organizing drive. Joe and Dave have a mostly civil discussion, and Joe, who knows facts and figures about the benefits of unionization, makes Dave’s arguments, mostly blather about “rugged individualism”, “creeping socialism”, and people putting their hands in his pockets, look pretty silly. Maybe at this point Joe has convinced Dave, and Dave signs a card indicating he wants a union. Let’s say he doesn’t. Let’s say at this point, Dave is really steamed; Joe got the better of him rhetorically, since all his “Rushisms” seemed silly next to the naked facts that union workers make more than non-unionized workers in similar fields, more often have access to cheaper and higher-quality health care, receive more paid holidays off, more sick time, and more vacation than their non-unionized brethren, and have protections in place to guard against workplace discrimination and unjust dismissal. But the years of listening to a drug-addled, draft-dodging windbag on the radio every day have slightly unhinged Dave. Instead of just telling Joe to ix nay the union stuff, he tells a supervisor that Joe is “intimidating” him. Joe’s fired faster than you can say “card check”. Which sucks for Joe since he’s got a family to support and bills that need to be paid. And Joe’s firing will squash most if not all debate about the union drive at Factory XYZ. Some would say the remaining employees are being intimidated not to support the union lest they end up like Joe, but no one at either the NLRB or Factory XYZ really gives a rat’s butt about that.
Let’s explore another scenario of possible “intimidation” by union “thugs and goons”, one pointed out to me by Townhall.com poster Publius 4254:
The unions are salivating at the thought of being able to intimidate more workers into signing the cards and getting more union members than they would get through the secret ballot. Is it any stretch of the imagination to believe that the unions won’t send out a bunch of thugs to make sure every worker makes the “correct” choice? After all, the unions know where the workers live and where their kids go to school. What worker would be able to resist the pressure when some thug is standing in front of him making subtle threats against his family? I don’t for a minute believe that businesses would resort to such tactics, but unions are known for that.
Yes, it is a stretch of the imagination. But, I have a good imagination, so here goes: Ah, yessssss, I imagine it, a bizarro world of America 2009. In this world most unions have the resources to deploy vast goon squads to kneecap resisters and/or kidnap their children (Incidentally, my own union, the American Postal Workers Union, has coffers so overloaded with cash that it has just suspended our monthly union magazine. But in Bizarro America we have $10 million dollars budgeted for various thugs and thuggery) And in bizarro America everyone knows most union bosses are cruel, subhuman monsters who delight in inflicting pain and causing human misery. Don’t even get me started on the seemingly endless loop on the Bizarro nightly news and in newspapers stories about these tactics being deployed at one workplace after another after another.
Let’s think about this for a moment: what happens if a union thug assaults/threatens/etc. a working man who doesn’t want a union in his shop? For starters, the thug is probably arrested, a complaint is filed, and the union drive is cancelled by the NLRB. The union that engaged in said tactic gets lots of bad press, fines, audits, probes, etc. etc. etc.–it could even be de-certified. All to influence an election that, if freely and fairly administered sans union or management dirty tricks, will most often result in the formation of a union.
Another comment from Townhall, this one from conservativeman in NC illustrates just how silly the notion of a “union thug” ringing your doorbell with baseball bat in hand and kneecap-breaking in his mind really is:
Let the Unions send their thugs
Because in some places those thugs won’t go back to the hall in the same condition they arrived in.
Bingo. America is probably high up on the list of most armed places on the planet. Thanks to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution a citizen has the right to keep and bear arms. Remember the story last Halloween of the trick or treaters in a Detriot suburb who were blown away because they knocked on the door of a home which housed a meth lab? Imagine the thug who approaches a home with his trusty bat only to be confronted with a homeowner with a tricked-out Bushmaster rifle–he probably wouldn’t make it back to his union hall period.
Even without a gun, there’s such a thing as 9-1-1. If a goon came to your house and wouldn’t leave, you can and should call the cops–or yell for help to a neighbor–or just sign the card and call the authorities when they leave and tell the bosses when you return to work. Real life, 99.99% of the time, isn’t like a bad Hollywood movie.
To sum up, I don’t think workplace union intimidation is really as big a menace as those who bash EFCA make it out to be. Despite my snarky title, vigorous debate is needed more than ever in the workplace. Informed workers have to educate their coworkers on the necessary role of unions. People aren’t made of glass, and they won’t shatter if they hear new ideas. Workers who step over the line and harass will be terminated, of that you can be assured.
The playing field has been tilted greatly towards management’s favor for a least 40, if not 60, years. And though I hate the three-legged stool analogy, but you really do need a three-legged stool in the workplace: Labor is one leg. Management is another. Government is the third. All the legs need to be equal or the stool wobbles. If you saw too much off any given leg, the stool will fall over. Labor and management oppose eachother, while government regulates and makes sure all’s fair and nobody gets hurt (in a perfect world). I think we can see the effects of the labor and the government regulatory legs being worn down all around us. Don’t you think there’s some connection between stagnating wages and the decline of organized labor (and good government) in at least the past thirty years? Adjusted for inflation, worker’s haven’t gotten a raise since the late 1970’s, while CEO increased over a thousand-fold in the same time period. With wages flat and the cost-of-living soaring, is it any wonder working class families were forced to spend their home equity and max out their plastic just to pay the bills and feed and clothe their families? And in light of that, is it any wonder we find over country $12 trillion dollars in the hole and facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression?
Let Joe and Dave engage in a vigorous debate and work out their differences, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.