thansk to John Vincent Nov. 15, 2006, 11:28PM WORKING Unions hope bill energizes organizing
By L.M. SIXEL Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
ONCE the Democrats take control of Congress, expect to see legislation fairly quickly to boost the minimum wage, make student loans more affordable and require employers to permit union card checks.
Union card checks?
It's not exactly a front-burner issue for most folks. Or even understood by most.
But the easy method of labor organizing, which allows unions to collect the signatures of a majority of employees who say they want to be represented, is high on the agenda of organized labor, which has struggled for years to win workplace elections.
Under current law, unless a company agrees to accept signed cards, the National Labor Relations Board sets a date for an election, with the six-week campaign putting workers in the crossfire.
Workers can be forced to attend "captive audience meetings," during which officials focus on the dues employees will have to pay, what union leaders earn and characterize the union as an unnecessary third-party intervener.
Meanwhile, union leaders make home visits and buttonhole employees in parking lots and break rooms, hoping to convince them that joining the union is in their best interest.
"Workers in America have lost any effective right to organize unions," said Stewart Acuff, national organizing director for the AFL-CIO, which supports the card-check method.
He met this week with Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the likely next chairman of the House Education and the Work Force Committee, about taking quick action on the legislation.
"There is no effective sanction against employer threats, retaliation or termination of union leaders," Acuff said. He added that more than 20,000 workers a year for the past decade have been fired for trying to form unions or for participating in similar union activities.
There's another incentive for unions to want card checks they win more often.
When it's a secret-ballot election, unions win only 54 percent of the time, said Mark Jodon, an employment lawyer with Littler Mendelson in Houston. But when there's a card check, unions get recognized more than 90 percent of the time.
"No wonder unions do not want elections, if they can avoid them," Jodon said.
Election waived in Houston When the Service Employees International Union started organizing 5,300 janitors in Houston last year, the union won an agreement from the five companies that they would waive an election and accept signature cards instead.
While that deal came about fairly quickly, the SEIU has fought for years to win recognition for a card-check process.
Method seen as key Card checks are critical for the kind of campaigns the SEIU runs, union spokeswoman Lynda Tran said.
"We can get in quickly, get these workers and let them make their choice," she said.
At Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut, the SEIU ran an intense corporate campaign for seven years against the hospital just so it could collect signature cards to organize 1,850 nonprofessional employees.
"That gives you some idea of their tenacity," said Jack Haskell, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan, a consultant based in Hartford, Conn., that works with companies facing organizing campaigns.
Hospital spokesman Mark D'Antonio said he can't comment because the hospital has a "nondisparagement agreement" with the SEIU.
A bill that's already been introduced in Congress would require employers to recognize a union if signature cards are signed by a majority of employees.
Offered in 2005, the Employee Free Choice Act has 215 co-sponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate.
"We're pushing very hard for it to be enacted by this Congress," Acuff said, adding that it also contains provisions for triple damages from employers that violate the law as well as provisions for unions to obtain injunctions.
But, Jodon said, the bill isn't fair to employees or employers.
Free employee choice is based on secret ballot elections, Jodon said. It's too easy for union leaders to intimidate employees into signing something they don't really understand.
And employers want a chance to present their side, he said, because it's too one-sided if it's just a discussion between a union representative and an employee.
Employers complacent? While the Employee Free Choice Act isn't on the minds of executives nationwide, Michael Lotito, an employment lawyer with Jackson Lewis in San Francisco, suspects it will be sometime soon.
"The vast majority of employers think labor unions are dead and not a threat to their organizations," Lotito said. "They haven't had to deal with them for 25 years."
They also believe their employees are happy and wouldn't join a union, he said. They don't realize how rapidly growing unions like the SEIU target companies for strategic reasons and then go about approaching employees to build the grass roots.
"Employees become pawns," he said. "That's what a corporate campaign is all about."
Disputing idea of pawns Tran disagreed.
"I definitely don't think that's the case," she said. "Just talk to any janitor, and they'd say this is about improving their lives. I don't think they'd say they're a pawn in a fight they're putting their hearts and souls into."
Rutgers is an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers websites to email@example.com or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier / Provide Feedback form.
Copyright ©2021, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. All rights reserved. Contact Webmaster