Friday, July 11, 2008

Sign here, buddy 

I don't watch the Sopranos, but I get this:
An ad ran yesterday in the StarTribune from the Minnesotans for Employee Freedom, for which I am a member of its steering committee. The ads have drawn some attention from the press this week as the first issue ad in Minnesota.

It's worth thinking a bit more about this issue: What is wrong with card check? I got a card to join AARP recently; I didn't have to fill out a secret ballot on whether AARP could represent me or not. But unions are not voluntary organizations. If 50% plus one of my fellow employees sign a card for a union, the rest of us are compelled to make it our agent for the terms and conditions of our employment. We would give away a great deal of control to our fellow workers if they were permitted to simply get 50%+1 of employees to sign cards. I would argue that a private ballot in voting for giving someone agency rights over our voluntary association with an employer is higher-stakes than our vote in a Presidential election (since the group is so much smaller, our ballot has a much higher probability of being decisive.) You might wonder why unions would be opposed to secret ballots; my answer is "cui bono?"

As I pointed out last month, and as the new ad makes clear, voting in public is coercive. Often union representatives have access to personal information about employees in a shop they want to organize, including home addresses and phone numbers, by which they can repeatedly visit and hope for a signature in a weak moment. Consider a couple of examples. From the Man Show, a spoof was done to get women to sign a petition that would "end women's suffrage." Of course, you hear that word and if not careful think "suffering" and what woman wouldn't want to end suffering? The result is, they just signed a petition to give up their right to vote.

The other is from Penn&Teller's Bullshit program, which is a petition to get dihydrogen monoxide banned. Sounds like awful stuff, until Teller draws for you what it is. Passion overcomes reason when someone is jamming a clipboard or a card in your face asking "only" for your signature.
Remember, nobody gets to talk to you when the fellow with the card comes to visit. EFCA says that employers will be found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act if they should interfere with a card check drive. Interfering could be anything including signs or pamphlets advising against signing cards. This after that employee and employer had already entered into a voluntary agreement. The choice is asymmetric -- laws make it much harder to remove an existing union than to create a new one. Should that agreement be abrogated by Johnny Sack with a clipboard?

UPDATE: I had not seen until someone commented on it the "Reality Check" by Pat Kessler. Kessler is misleading on two points.
The bill that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken supports does not eliminate the secret ballot election. Workers still have the right to hold one but labor unions say the new option gives employers less control.
We've cited what the bill says, and we're happy that Kessler agrees that Franken supports HR 800/S 1041. But unions have a strong preference for card check -- which they can only get by agreement with the employer currently. EFCA removes the ability of the employer to negotiate after the cards reach 50%+1. The National Right to Work Legal Foundation has analyzed all union elections and card checks since a case was decided in favor of employees having access to information from their employers. Over 250 were done by card check since November 2007 (basically, a six month period; the last data I saw had about 2500 elections a year by 2005.) As it is, unions win a majority of elections when they are held, 57% between 2001 and 2005. According to data from the liberal Center for Economic Policy Research, perhaps a quarter of all workers organized were through card check. But obviously that's not enough because...
You can agree or disagree with the motive of the bill, but the effect is that it would make it easier to form a union. That's why labor unions want it so badly. Union membership is plummeting.
Unions are not entitled to a share of the labor force. As the traditional manufacturing sectors have declined and as service sector jobs become more high-tech and professional, it is only reasonable that union membership would decline. Union membership is also declining in Sweden, hardly a bastion of free market capitalism. Kessler misleads by implying that employers in the US have been more successful in reducing unionism against the wishes of their workers. There's no evidence that would support that claim.

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