Unions: The ‘Risk’ of Secret Ballot Elections

Randel K. Johnson of the United States Chamber of Commerce.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Betting Against the American Middle Class
By Leo Gerard / May 26, 2009

Randel K. Johnson, vice president of that esteemed group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently revealed a corporate-squelched truth in a slip of the tongue.

During a debate on May 15 with Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO about the Employee Free Choice Act, Johnson admitted – finally – that the act preserves secret ballot elections for unions. The act would allow workers – rather than employers – to decide whether to form a union by conducting a secret ballot election or by collecting signed membership cards from a majority of workers.

Incredibly, for as much as unearned-bonus-grubbing-CEOs have lied about secret ballots in their relentless campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, that was not Johnson’s revelation.

No, here’s what he disclosed: If the act passes, he said, “It would be a rare union that would decide to risk a normal secret ballot election.

Risk. Interesting word, Mr. Johnson.

The Chamber of Commerce knows there’s a huge risk to secret ballot elections. And the Chamber likes it that way. Employers stack the deck against workers in secret ballot elections. They don’t publicly admit it though. That’s why Johnson’s use of the word “risk” was so surprising.

The Chamber and big corporations like Wal-Mart are intent on defeating the act because it would remove from employers the power to force workers to conduct secret ballot elections. It would strip from employers that ability to generate risk, to defeat unions, and thus to further shrink wages and the American middle class.

A Cornell University professor, Kate Bronfenbrenner, who has researched labor issues for a quarter century, issued a new study last week that clearly illustrates the risk of secret ballot elections and how employers have labored long and hard to increase that risk in recent years. It’s called, “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organization.”

Among the tactics she documents employers using in the weeks before the “secret ballot” election to thwart unionization are firing of union organizers, threats to close the plant or cut wages and benefits, and forcing workers to meet one-on-one with supervisors who intimidate and interrogate them to determine whether they support the union.

Bronfenbrenner concluded, “This combination of threats, interrogation, surveillance, and harassment has ensured that there is no such thing as a democratic ‘secret ballot’ in the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) certification election process. The progression of actions the employer has taken can ensure that the employer knows exactly which way every worker plans to vote long before the election takes place.”

Her study showed employers implementing these tactics more frequently than in the past. When she compared organizing campaigns in this five-year period to those in the studies over the previous 20 years, she discovered two disconcerting facts: the cases in which employers used 10 of these threatening techniques in the run-up to elections more than doubled. And employers focused much more on coercive and punitive methods rather than positive procedures such as unscheduled raises and promotions.

Not surprisingly, she also found that as employers exploited harsher tactics and intensified their attacks in the weeks before “secret balloting,” the union was more likely to lose. And, conversely, she found that in campaigns where public sector workers tried organizing and government agencies refrained from coercive and illegal tactics, the union was significantly more likely to win.

If it weren’t so easy for employers to create risk for workers, millions more could get the union protection they want. Surveys show an increasing number of American workers desire a union. In the mid 1990s, it was 40 percent. Now it’s 53 percent. Yet only 12.4 percent of American workers have that protection – and the better wages and benefits that go with it.

Bronfenbrenner addressed this issue in her report: “Our findings suggest that the aspirations for representation are being thwarted by a coercive and punitive climate for organizing that goes unrestrained due to a fundamentally flawed regulatory regime that neither protects their rights nor provides any disincentive for employers to continue disregarding the law.”

She continues: “Unless serious labor law reform with real penalties is enacted, only a fraction of the workers who seek representation under the National Labor Relations Act will be successful.”

That reform is the Employee Free Choice Act, and there’s the point of Johnson’s use of the word risk. The Chamber of Commerce intends to kill the act and leave risk fully on the shoulders of workers. As Bronfenbrenner showed, that would mean fewer will be unionized. Middle class wages and benefits would continue to decline.

It is time for American workers to stop bearing all of the risk. They’re working for less and bailing out the very people who are obstructing their ability to fairly bargain for more.

In October, Bank of America, which has received more than $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money, hosted a conference call with conservatives and business officials, including a representative of AIG, which has received more than $100 billion in taxpayer bailout money, to organize opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. Then in March, just days after the act was introduced, Citigroup Inc., which got $50 billion in bailout money, hosted a similar conference call, this one led by Glenn Spencer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

During the October call, Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, said he should be on a 350-foot boat in the Mediterranean, but he thought fighting the Employee Free Choice Act was more important because, “This is the demise of a civilization. . . This is how a civilization disappears.”

Yes, the Employee Free Choice Act could contribute ever so slightly to dissipation of a decadent class. Unionization is how the middle class re-emerges. America could do without a few filthy-rich boys lolling on yachts in the Mediterranean. At the heart of America, however, must be a strong and broad middle class.

Source / Blog for Our Future

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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2 Responses to Unions: The ‘Risk’ of Secret Ballot Elections

  1. Anonymous says:

    Gosh, what a shame that people who create wealth should enjoy it. They should be made to overpay their employees whose jobs they created. A close look at Generous Motors and the Autoworkers Union shows just how great union extortion tactics can leach the life out of a company.

    Employee Free Choice Act is a bad idea and actually fosters the extortion that eliminates competitiveness in our economy. Let’s get real, the unions have become political animals who suck the life out of our industry in the name of workers by extorting the companies who depend on them (and who the workers depend on) – who at the end of the day get a worse deal. For reference see: Airline employees union, United Autoworkers Union, Teamsters and Steel Workers — Also see OUTSOURCING because that’s what the unions foster by making American workers uncompetitive. Like it or not we live and most importantly COMPETE in a global economy.

    The most egregious is the SEIU (Service employees international union). Just look at their smear propaganda campaign against Wal Mart. They have made up every kind of story about the company using half truths and outright lies to try and extort their way into this company. A close look at the data they used to claim Wal Mart store crime is an issue will demonstrate their lies. The funny part (is there one?) is that if Wal Mart was to knuckle under and unionize they would overnight become a “model of quality commerce and a good corporate partner” and the “wakeupwalmart.com” and “highcostoflowprices.com” would disappear – replaced by “walmartandtheseiuforstrongeramerica.com”

    I’ll leave you with a recent quote from a laid off GM worker: “They let us get away with our demands, how did we know they couldn’t come through”.

  2. Wade Hannon says:

    Good article. My only issue is that the author uses the AFL-CIO sanctioned term “middle class” when, in reality, one should refer to us that work for a living as working class.

    I would add, too, that workers need to focus on organizing and becoming more assertive about our rights and relying less on the NLRB. We have to revitalize class-consciousness and militancy!

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