Green Room

Courageous Stand Against Card Check; but What About the Rest of Us?

posted at 6:30 pm on September 9, 2009 by

A large “corporation” has just fought a courageous and ultimately successful battle against union thuggery; amazingly enough, that brave entity is the Legal Services Corporation — a “private” (public sector) not-for-profit established and funded by Congress to ensure legal representation for the poor.

When the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) tried to “organize” the LSC, they decided to make the fight a ringing victory for the “new” tactic of Card Check (which is not currently allowed by federal labor law); instead of the normal secret ballot, whereby employees get to vote for or against the union without intimidation (since unionistas can never know how a particular employee voted), union agitators demanded that IFPTE be automatically established if they submitted a certain number of cards, supposedly freely signed by employees, representing at least 50%+1 of the particular “labor unit” — in the LSC case, the entire quasi-private corporation.

They did so, but the very left-leaning LSC rejected the demand, as they are allowed to do under current law… until and unless Big Labor is able to bully Congress into enacting the Orwellianly named Employee Free Choice Act of 2005 2007 2009 (and assuming the EFCA will apply to public- as well as private-sector corporations). Instead, LSC President Helaine Barnett told the union agitators that the LSC would hold a secret ballot — which evoked howls of outrage and fury from the unionistas and from the ultra-Left in Congress:

Calling himself a longtime supporter of the LSC and its mission, Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, in a letter last week obtained by The Washington Times, said it was “troubling to learn that LSC is now using hard-fought-for taxpayer funds to retain a law firm and engage in a campaign to potentially frustrate employees’ desire to exercise their right to join a union….” [Yes, it must be very frustrating when you want to join a union that a majority of your co-workers don’t want to join. — DaH]

Josh Goldstein, a spokesman with American Rights at Work, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, said it probably would be in Ms. Barnett’s interest to accept the cards rather than go through a time-consuming election. [“Be a real shame if something were to, you know, happen to this nice place you got here…”]

“The workers would have a union, and they could move forward and get back to the actual work they are supposed to be doing,” he said. “Whereas now, even if you go in with the best of intentions, outsiders are going to be coming in to create another step in the process.”

Although Helaine Barnett was appointed president of the LSC by President George W. Bush, she’s not an anti-LSC (or anti-labor) activist; rather, she is a long-term LSC apparatchik, having served most recently as attorney-in-charge of the Civil Division of the Legal Aid Society of New York City.

That “other step” Josh Goldstein decries is, of course, a chance for workers actually to vote in secret, rather than be brought into the office of the union rep by a couple of apes, given a card, and told, “don’t read it — sign it!”

The surreality of the argument for the EFCA begins with the name: Employees already have a free choice; they can vote in a secret ballot for or against any particular union that wants to represent them. For that matter, private-sector workers can even vote via “card check;” it’s already provided for in the law.

The only significant change — and it’s a biggie — is that under the EFCA, if a majority of workers in a labor unit “sign” cards (whether under duress or even forged), the union is formed immediately upon certification by the Labor Department, which is not exactly a disinterested third party. Thereafter, if the employer and union cannot come to a collective-bargaining agreement within a certain period of time, federal arbiters come in and make the agreement themselves.

Since the arbiters are almost certain to lean strongly towards the union’s position on virtually every issue, the net effect is that mere submission of the cards automatically puts the union into place on the union’s own terms.

Under current law, if workers “vote” for a union via card check, and the union and employer cannot agree, there is no required federal arbitration; only if the vote is via a federally supervised secret ballot. This gives even the union a great incentive to work through the secret ballot, as otherwise it has no mechanism for force management to come to agreement.

So all that the EFCA does is remove any practical hope workers might have for a secret ballot, if, for example, the shop floor is rife with union thuggery and intimidation (as so many are). The “free choice” offered by the bill is in fact the removal of the free choice to vote in secret, without Guido and Nunzio looming over you, watching narrowly as you sign the card the union rep shoves into your trembling hands.

But the surreality continues. Consider this whiny complaint by the union organizers at LSC:

Employees in LSC oversight offices, with the help of the IFPTE, appealed to LSC President Helaine Barnett in a July 20 letter, asking her to accept authorization cards signed by “an overwhelming majority” of workers signaling their intent to unionize. Ms. Barnett dismissed the request in a July 28 letter, saying that “authorization cards are often an unreliable indicator of support for a union,” according to a copy of the correspondence obtained by The Times.

But if “an overwhelming majority” of workers honestly and freely support being represented by the IFPTE, then why the urgency to use card check instead of a secret ballot, already scheduled for this Thursday and Tuesday? The obvious implication is that they really don’t have a majority of workers legitimately signed up.

If the LSC holds the election as planned, and if a majority of workers vote for the IFPTE on a secret ballot, then the union and LSC start to negotiate; if they cannot come to agreement, federal arbiters step in, and the union gets more or less everything it wants. In which case, the outcome is the same as if Barnett and the LSC board of directors accepted the cards… no harm done.

But if they hold the election and a majority of voters reject unionization under IFPTE, what would that tell us? First and foremost, it would demonstrate for all the world to see that you cannot rely on signed cards to determine the true desire of the workers for a union. It would be the greatest argument against the EFCA that could possibly be made — and it would be made by the unionistas themselves.

But there is one more wrinkle to this case: It’s telling that the administration of President Barack H. Obama is pulling every trick in the book trying to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed for the private sector; meanwhile, it’s being rejected as unrepresentative and unworkable by a corporation that was established by Congress, is funded by Congress, whose board members are appointed by the President subject to Senate confirmation (just like cabinet members — but with more oversight than Obamic czars), whose most famous board member and board chair was a thirty year old gal named Hillary Rodham, and whose website is http://www.lsc.gov/.

So the operating philosophy appears to be “card check for thee but not for me”:

The preference of the LSC, which is legally structured as a nonprofit corporation, for using the secret-ballot election process complies with federal organizing requirements. Federal agency employees, unlike their counterparts in the private sector, aren’t permitted to unionize voluntarily using authorization cards.

“They have to go through the secret-ballot election,” said Sarah Whittle Spooner, legal counsel for the Federal Labor Relations Authority, which has jurisdiction over government agencies. “There is no process for voluntarily organizing in the federal sector.”

Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, which opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, said this amounted to a double standard.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to say that when [the government's] interests are at stake it’s not an accurate way to hold an election, but when it’s a [private] company, it is,” she said.

However, she said LSC made the right decision. “We totally agree with them: This is not an accurate way to judge support,” she said.

I have no idea whether the current version of the EFCA would extend the card-check requirement to public-sector employers; perhaps a reader versed in labor law can take a look and report back. But it is an interesting question… just how far is the Obama administration willing to go to operate under the same restrictions, limitations, and regulations it demands private employers suffer?

Probably not very far, as Obama’s answer to the infamous health-reform question implies.

Cross-posted on Big Lizards

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