By Liz Leicht, International Labor Rights Forum intern
For someone who is interested in labor rights and unions, I have found that business classes are surprisingly not the best place for information. In a Human Resources Management last semester I saw that the very last chapter we would cover would be on unions and the labor movement. Since non-profit business and labor rights are what I am most interested in, I wanted to learn more about the process for unionizing from a business management perspective. Little did I know, but my college education on unions and the labor movement would be very different than what I expected, gaining my previous knowledge about unions from a conference with United Students Against Sweatshops.
Many of my classmates seemed to be anti-union. While I don’t know if these negative views of unions came from management classes, their families or somewhere completely different, it was interesting that many of the students, who I could see as CEO’s of large companies someday, weren’t interested in unions. They didn’t see how unions and businesses could work together to produce competitive products and services while also giving employees fair compensation. For some of the other students in my class it seemed like it was always an us versus them type of situation. I think that the goal is for unions to form a mutually beneficial relationship between employees and employers. This is why we have the National Labor Code. Part of this includes the Wagner Act establishing the rights of workers to organize unhampered by management interference and coercion, and the Taft Hartley Act which regulates unions in much the same way the Wagner Act does for management.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, in a study of hundreds of organizing campaigns found that the problem then is that 92% of employers who are faced with their employees wanting to unionize, force them to attend closed door meetings to present anti union materials. Seventy-five percent hire outside firms to run anti union campaigns to discourage employees from voting pro union. Also in 25% of unionizing campaigns, employers illegally fire workers wanting to unionize. As we can see from these statistics, there is much more of a problem with management not following the Wagner Act than unions not following the Taft Hartley Act.
While 78% of those polled in a random survey of 1,007 adults across the country wanted to see legislation that protects a workers’ freedom to form unions by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a group called Save Our Secret Ballot, backed by businesses and CEO’s is proposing an amendment that guarantees the right of a secret ballot. This group is in opposition to EFCA which will let employees sign authorization cards to form a union instead of holding secret ballot elections. There is lots of helpful information about EFCA on the American Rights at Work's website.
The current process for unionizing in the U.S. goes as follows:
- Employees organize a campaign
- Authorization cards must be signed by employee to designate a union as his or her collective bargaining agent, and 30% of these employees must sign before an election can be called
- Representation election – secret ballot election where the union needs a majority of the votes to win
- Certification. This process is complicated and with having essentially two big steps, the authorization cards and then the election there is much more space for employers to run anti union campaigns. While under the Employee Free Choice Act workers would not be required to have a secret ballot, they would have the choice to use a secret ballot election.
This is why according to Mary Beth Maxwell, Executive Director of American Rights at Work, that the Save Our Secret Ballot campaigns are not based in fact. In an interview with C-Span, Mary Beth Maxwell discusses with both republicans and democrats their concerns about the Employee Free Choice Act, including “Card-Check” (which is essentially majority rules, and is what EFCA would let workers do), factories moving abroad, wrongful discharge of employees because of union involvement, and regulation of unions.
The Employee Free Choice Act will remove barriers that prevent workers from forming unions such as the lengthy process, coercion, wrongful discharge, and discrimination. In addition it will Guarantee workers a contract when they form a union. In one third of companies where a union is formed, management refuses to negotiate a contract, so the Employee Free Choice Act will provide mediation and then arbitration if the first contract is not set within 90 days. Lastly, the Employee Free Choice Act will strengthen the penalties for companies that ignore the law during organizing campaigns or contract negotiation.
Hilda Solis, President Elect Obama’s choice for Secretary of Labor co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act bill which passed the House in 2007 but was then stalled in the Senate. President Elect Obama was also a co-sponsor of the card-check bill. In the months to come this will be a very important issue, that if passed I believe has the potential to improve the lives of many middle class working families. It is up to my generation of managers to want to understand and embrace union discussions, and labor rights. This issue will become increasingly more important to management majors graduating from school, which means understanding on both sides is needed.