November 19, 2008

Surprise! You're Union.

Justin Katz

Thomas Wigand, a labor lawyer and well-known personage on the Rhode Island right, describes for the Providence Business News just what the Employee Free Choice Act would mean:

This new legislation is called the "Employee Free Choice Act." Some have opined that the name is "Orwellian," for EFCA quashes "free choice" by effectively eliminating secret ballot elections in union-organizing drives. It accomplishes this by mandating "card check" certification of unions. Under a "card check" regime, union organizers need only collect signatures from a simple majority of the targeted work force, upon which the union is "certified" and the entire work force is unionized.

This "card check" process leaves employees at the mercy of union organizers who, working singly and in groups, track down employees at work and in their homes. Experience shows they often subject employees to misrepresentations, which escalate to peer pressure and then to intimidation, until the employee finally relents and signs a union "authorization card." So under EFCA the union ("candidate") can solicit and collect the signatures ("votes") by pretty much whatever means it deems necessary, and then declare itself the victor — exactly the type of "election" regime one would associate with a totalitarian state. ...

The coming administration elevates the enactment of EFCA from "possibility" to "likelihood," though uncertainty as to enactment remains. What is certain is that employers wishing to preserve their union-free advantage should not wait for enactment before responding to this threat. Employee signatures are valid for one year — so even now organizers could be quietly collecting inventories of signatures, readying themselves to pounce on unsuspecting companies immediately after enactment, announcing that their workplace is "now union."

If the EFCA were to pass (which it shouldn't), it seems only fair to add an amendment that would allow employers and anti-union activists to accumulate signatures for a petition that bans unions, or at least requires them to campaign and seek votes.

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Notice how the unions have have to lie to people to trick them into something. If unions are so great, based on the merits, just why would they need to lie to be successful?
The "free choice" act is anything but.

Just shows you, once again, what losers those union punks are.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at November 19, 2008 10:47 AM

Doesn't sound like either "free" or "choice".

Yeah, if a union is such a good thing for the people, what's so hard about simply calling a meeting during non-business hours, get a majority to sign the cards and off you go. If they do that, I have zero problem with the place being unionized, however with an open shop. If someone people don't want to be union and don't want any of the benefits of union and negotiate individually with the employer, I have no problem with that. It is funny how unions need to resort to thuggery to achieve their goals.

Posted by: Patrick at November 19, 2008 11:03 AM

Companies have no problem using strongarm tactics to keep unions out. That's why EFCA was created.
If you want a better alternative, it'll require fair play from BOTH sides.

Posted by: rhody at November 19, 2008 11:07 AM

What's wrong with using the same system we use to pick our president?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at November 19, 2008 12:38 PM

Employees have little to fear from employers – it’s the union thugs that they have to worry about!

In 2003 this is what the National Labor Relations Board got the Teamsters to “consent” to stop doing during an organizing drive:

In part:

“WE WILL NOT use or threaten to use a weapon of any kind, including but not limited to guns, knives, slingshots, rocks, ball bearings, liquid-filled balloons or other projectiles, picket signs, sticks, sledge hammers, bricks, hot coffee, bottles, two by fours, lit cigarettes, eggs, or bags or balloons filled with excrement against any non-striking Overnite employee or security guard in the presence any Overnite employee.”

“WE WILL NOT threaten to kill or inflict bodily harm, make throat slashing motions, make gun pointing motions, challenge or threaten to fight or assault employees, threaten to sexually assault non-striking employees or their family members, threaten to follow non-striking employees to their homes, use racial epithets or obscene gestures at non-striking employees or otherwise threaten unspecified reprisals on any non-striking employee of Overnite or any member of his or her family or any employee of a neutral employee doing business with Overnite, or on any security guard, supervisor or manager of Overnite or neutral employers doing business with Overnite in the presence of employees.”

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at November 19, 2008 1:01 PM

Oh, those Teamsters. In my business, companies pretty much give the Teamsters whatever they want because the unions on my end of the business are the ones targeted by CEOs, boards, union-busting law firms, etc.
Believe me, there are plenty of union folks like me who are interested merely in fairness but get painted with the same brush as those guys.

Posted by: rhody at November 19, 2008 2:56 PM

"Companies have no problem using strongarm tactics to keep unions out."

Presuming they do (show me the evidence), why shouldn't they? They're just trying to protect their company. Remember, they own it.

A company's primary raison d'etre is to generate profits for the owners/shareholders. When they stop doing that for a long enough period of time, they cease being.

Even presuming what you said was factually correct, how exactly would two wrongs make a right?

The EFCA is fundamentally undemocratic, if not anti-American. That type of overt coercion and intimidation has no place in a free society. If unions are so great, you shouldn't need to force one on a company and its workers, especially on those who don't want it.

The main reason why it's bad, is that increased labor costs, with no additional benefit to consumers, would raise the cost of everything on the rest of us who aren't on the "inside." It would also put American companies at a further competitive disadvantage, thus expediting companies moving operations off shore.

Posted by: Will at November 19, 2008 6:11 PM

It should be called the "End Secret Ballots and Ship Jobs Overseas Act".
Don't fret-it is going NOWHERE.
I must say though that companies have provoked this by using sleazy and blatantly illegal union-busting tactics which the NLRB has proven unable/unwilling to adequately police.

Posted by: Mike at November 19, 2008 7:14 PM

I hope you're right, Mike.

People at a particular shop must be free to choose whether or not to unionize without fear or implication of intimidation or reprisals. This means via a secret ballot, with 51% or more as the tipping point.

No other method is defensible. Again, shame on Senator Obama for supporting an open ballot, the sole purpose of which is to obtain unionization through intimidation.

Posted by: Monique at November 19, 2008 8:46 PM

The fundamental lack of understanding of the current law is astounding from this blog, but that is no surprise. But Mike C asks a logical question. And if we used the same laws for an organizing drive as in a presidential election that would be fine. But what we have now is a situation, to think of it in presidential terms:
Candidate 1 could go to every state in the country, whenever he wanted
Candidate 2 would have to stay in Canada
Candidate 1 could have radio, tv, internet, mailings, phone calls, anytime, any place, and paid for at any amount
Candidate 2 can only use media at certain times, in certain places, and only with the approval of candidate 1
Candidate 1 can have total access to the voter list
Candidate 2 can only get the voter list after a protracted process run by the government and then the list has to be approved by Candidate 1 and only has to contain the most basic information like name and mailing address. And the mailing address can be the office of candidate 1.

those are just a few examples. Not that it matters.

Posted by: Pat Crowley at November 20, 2008 4:37 PM

This is part of an email I recently sent to Froma Harrop about her editorial on card checks.

"Your position on the card check issue conforms with the Republican's denunciation of unionization and in their anti union position using this canard about valuing democratic elections. Card checks present a public election for unionization. If a majority of a workforce are willing to sign up for a union in front of their coworkers, managers and owners, then their intentions are already known. Under present law, after card check verifies that a majority seeks unionization, feds verify and arrange for the secret election. In that intervening time, the company or others use every means possible- with the names of the card check signers public- to overturn the desires of a majority of their workers. I saw this process first hand. I worked as a sub-contractor for Cornucopia Foods then located in Coventry, RI. That company is now named United Natural Foods. The workers tried to become part of the Teamsters. The Teamster union organizer was skeptical about their chances because the card check was only 60 percent of the approximately 100 workforce. The Teamsters agreed to continue after being appealed to by Cornucopia workers. The company hired a company that specialized in detering union efforts. Some of these efforts were softball. Some were hardball. After all, all the workers who signed up were known. It was only a matter of 10 or 11 votes. Without protection, certain workers were fired. Other workers I suspect succumbed to the soft pressure. I knew the owner of the company and was friendly with him. I am sure he could present a good case to his workers to reject a union. But why then did a majority publically declare themselves? The unionization effort failed. I suppose that result either supports your case or not- based on what side one is on. Thanks for the ability to write to you."

Posted by: David at November 20, 2008 5:13 PM




February 8, 2007
Washington, DC

Chairman Andrews, Ranking Member Kline, members of the House Subcommittee on
Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, good morning. My name is Jen Jason. I am a
former labor organizer for UNITE HERE, a union that represents more than 450,000
active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America in the textile,
lodging, foodservice and manufacturing industries.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here today as the committee considers the
“Employee Free Choice Act” to share my personal experiences with “card check”
campaigns as a former organizer.

As a child growing up with a United Methodist Minister for a father, I was raised with the
strong belief that I should spend my life working toward social justice in some way. For
a time, I considered entering the ministry. However, after graduating college, I felt that I
needed to spend time working in a service position while I made certain of my calling. I
was accepted into the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, a program designed to interview,
train and place new labor organizers. The AFL-CIO trained me in the skills necessary for
these efforts and I was eventually hired into UNITE’s organizing department.

As an Organizer for UNITE, I primarily worked on and later led “card check” organizing
campaigns. Depending on the situation, this meant that we either had a pre-existing “card
check” agreement with the company in question, or there was going to be a complicated
and aggressive corporate campaign waged against a company in order to coerce an
agreement, or I was working in a jurisdiction in which “card check” was predetermined
through legislation, such as in Quebec and Manitoba.

During my tenure, I organized under U.S. labor law and in Canada under different
provincially specific laws in Ontario, British Columbia, as well as Quebec and Manitoba.
I was directed to organize thousands of workers using “card check” strategies against
companies such as TJ Maxx, Levi’s, New Flyer Bus Company, and Cintas.

A “card check” campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers
over a weekend, a tactic called “housecalling,” with the sole intent of having those
workers sign authorization cards. Called a “blitz” by the unions, it entails teams of two
or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers’ personal
information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates
and other sources that were used to create a master list.

In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway.
Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get “into the door.” They
are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions,
Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to
quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their
job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting
that management won’t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally
convincing the worker to sign a card.

At the time, I personally took great pride in the fact that I could always get the worker to
sign the card if I could get inside their home. Typically, if a worker signed a card, it had
nothing to do with whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were treated
fairly by his or her boss. I found that most often it was the skill of the organizer to create
issues from information the organizer had extracted from the worker during the “probe”
stage of the house call that determined whether the worker signed the card.

I began to realize that the number of cards that were signed had less to do with support
for the union and more to do with the effectiveness of the organizer speaking to the

This appears to be consistent with results of secret ballot elections that are conducted in
which workers are able to vote and make their final decision free from manipulation,
intimidation or pressure tactics from either side.

From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the
ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends
organizers out to workers’ homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the
worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand. The time
allocated for the election to go forward allows the worker a chance to think through his or
her own issues without undue influence—thus avoiding an immediate, impulsive decision
based on little or no fact. After all, the decision to join a union is often life-changing, and
workers should be afforded the time to debate, discuss and research all of the options
available to them.

As an organizer working under a “card check” system versus an election system, I knew
that “card check” gave me the ability to quickly agitate a set of workers into signing
cards. I did not have to prove the union’s case, answer more informed questions from
workers or be held accountable for the service record of my union.

When the union is allowed to implement the “card check” strategy, the decision about
whether or not an individual employee would choose to join a union is reduced to a crisis
decision. This situation is created by the organizer and places the worker into a high
pressure sales situation. Furthermore, my experience is that in jurisdictions in which
“card check” was actually legislated, organizers tended to be even more willing to harass,
lie and use fear tactics to intimidate workers into signing cards. I have personally heard
from workers that they signed the union card simply to get the organizer to leave their
home and not harass them further. At no point during a “card check” campaign, is the
opportunity created or fostered for employees to seriously consider their working lives
and to think about possible solutions to any problems.

I began my career with UNITE with a strong belief in worker’s rights and democracy in
the workplace. During the course of my employment with the union, I began to
understand the reality behind the rhetoric. I took in the ways that organizers were
manipulating workers just to get a majority on “the cards” and the various strategies that
they employed. I began to appreciate that promises made by organizers at a worker’s
house had little to do with how the union actually functions as a “service” organization.

For example, we rarely showed workers what an actual union contract looked like
because we knew that it wouldn’t necessarily reflect what a worker would want to see.
We were trained to avoid topics such as dues increases, strike histories, etc. and to
constantly move the worker back to what the organizer identified as his or her “issues”
during the first part of the housecall. This technique was commonly referred to as “re-
agitation” during organizer training sessions. The logic follows that if you can keep
workers agitated and direct that anger at their boss, you can get them to sign the card. If
someone told me that she was perfectly contented at work, enjoyed her job and liked her
boss, I would look around her house and ask questions based on what I noticed: “wow, I
bet on your salary, you’ll never be able to get your house remodeled,” or, “so does the
company pay for day care?” These were questions to which I knew the answer and could
use to make her feel that she was cheated by her boss. Five minutes earlier she had just
told me that she was feeling good about her work situation.

Frankly, it isn’t difficult to agitate someone in a short period of time, work them up to the
point where they are feeling very upset, tell them that I have the solution, and that if they
simply sign a card, the union will solve all of their problems. I know many workers who
later, upon reflection, knew that they had been manipulated and asked for their card to be
returned to them. The union’s strategy, of course, was never to return or destroy such
cards, but to include them in the official count towards the majority. This is why it is
imperative that workers have the time and the space to make a reasoned decision based
on the facts and their true feelings.

In addition to the “housecall,” the union frequently employs other tactics to manipulate
the card numbers and add legitimacy to their organizing drive. One strategy is to
manipulate unit size. One of the most common ways that we ensured the union could
claim that we had reached a majority was to change the size of the group of workers we
were going to organize after the drive was finished. During the blitz, workers in every
department would be “housecalled,” but if need be, certain groups of workers would be
removed from the final unit, regardless of their level of union support. In doing so, the
union reduced the number of cards needed to reach a majority. Another such strategy is
that organizers are told to train workers to “provoke” unfair labor practices on the part of
the company in an attempt to create campaign legitimacy and coerce a “card check”

One egregious example was when Ernest Bennett, the Director of Organizing for UNITE
at the time, told a room full of organizers during a training meeting for the Cintas
campaign that if three workers weren’t fired by the end of the first week of organizing,
UNITE would not win the campaign. Another strategy is that organizers are told not to
file any unfair labor practice charges because it would slow the “card check” process and
make time for the workers to question their decisions.

After four years of watching what I feel were disgraceful practices on the part of
organizing unions, and having experienced personal discrimination in my own
workplace, I chose to leave UNITE, though I remain committed to work toward fairness
and prosperity for both employers and employees in the American workplace.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I look forward to any questions you may have.

Posted by: Tom W at November 20, 2008 7:27 PM
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