A current issue being debated in Congress is about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which would allow workers who want to form a union to decide if they want a secret ballot election or to accept union representation just based on a majority of signatures gathered. The debate has brought out the usual arguments both for and against unions and in some cases the people against EFCA simply mislead in their arguments. One such anti EFCA effort was expressed on the editorial pages of my boyhood hometown newspaper The Findlay Courier. It made me write a letter to the editor.
The editorial starts out:
An election would happen only if union organizers submitted cards from fewer than 50 percent of company workers. But unions know they lose most elections under such circumstances. Several have stated that their policy now is to seek an election only when 65-75 percent of workers have signed a card.
Yes, Unions do lose elections even after getting more than 50% of cards signed. Why would that be? I mean if the person signed a card and then voted against a union in an election, what would make them change their mind?
Too many people have been brainwashed by the focus on mobbed up unions back in the day like the Teamsters even though the mob was driven out because of the work of FBI investigations and resulting prosecutions.
Yes, Unions are only as good as its leadership and like all organizations it can be stuffed with people on power trips but a majority of Unions do work for the members and do what they are intended to do – protect the worker from arbitrary actions of an employer.
From my experience the reason most people vote against a Union is after heavy intimidation by management. How would you feel if your boss told you that if a Union was voted in, that you would lose your job. People barely existing from paycheck to paycheck end up backing down because of fear.
As I said in my letter, my mom tried to unionize a place she worked at for several years. As much as her coworkers complained about unfair wages and dangerous working conditions – when elections came up they were too scared to risk their jobs for a Union. It happened time and time again. Her coworkers would complain, a Union would come in gathering signatures, the company would get nasty, the workers would back down. It was a vicious cycle.
The truth is you can lose your job whether you have a Union or not. Most employers include a clause in employment applications that you can lose your job for any reason. It’s called “at-will” employment for a reason. The company could decide one day “Tom we need to let you go. Sorry…” and that would be it. There is no law requiring them to have a reason. As long as they weren’t stupid enough to make it look like they were doing it for racial, gender, or age reasons they can do it and there is no recourse for you at all.
A Union helps in getting a contract with an employer for certain wage and working conditions – it can’t prevent an employer from closing down or laying off people. At least with a Union if a job loss happens, the contract has provisions to help ease the damage. Also Union contracts allow for a certain progressive discipline and grievance procedures that a non-union shop doesn’t have to have. The Union’s job is to enforce the contract.
Union contracts are a compromise between the workers and management. While the company agrees to certain work rules, the Union allows the company to decide who to hire – for example. One place I worked at used temporary employees during peak business periods. The Union contract allowed this but also had a clause that if the workers worked more than certain number of total hours they had be made permanent. Also this contract wouldn’t let a worker officially join the Union unless they had been there at least 2 years. A Union contract, for most unionized places, is unique to that business.
Another misleading argument from the editorial:
Most significantly, it would almost certainly result in job losses. How far can employers be pushed, especially in the current economy, before they fall, or give up, or move to Mexico or China? There are companies that, if “card check” passes, will simply shut down any of their facilities that unionize this way.
Just as Unions fight and get pay raises and other expanded benefits during the good times, they have also given back some benefits in order to save the employer. Rarely has a Union refused to renegotiate a contract if the contract might lead to a business closing. The UAW just gave back a lot during the current economic melt down effecting the auto makers. The Union representing Cooper Tire workers in Findlay gave back some previous gains so the company would keep the Findlay plant open.
What most people seem to forget is that Unions are always asked first to give back even while management doesn’t give up anything in return. Again no matter the Union status, companies have closed or moved production out of the country.
Unions are there to protect workers and they would be insane if they didn’t make an effort to help a struggling company where possible. Again management isn’t a victim. They have to agree to all contracts or there is a strike so when they agree to the expanded contracts during the good times they are a willing party. They can always walk away.
A Courier reader commented about my letter and expressed another false argument about Unions. They wondered why they are forced to join a Union and complained their freedom not be in one is being taken away when a Union comes in.
There are 22 states that are Right-to-work states where you can’t be forced to join a Union or pay dues but are still covered any Union contract.
I agree you should have the freedom to join or not, the Union should also have the option not cover you under the contract. Since federal law prohibits a Union from doing that then Right-to-work laws are unfair. Is it really ok to get the benefit of a contract without paying for it through joining the Union or paying dues?
Here is the full text of my March 18th letter to the editor as published:
Employers harass pro-union workers
The March 12 Courier editorial, “Un-free choice,” about the Employee Free Choice Act currently being considered in Congress, was misleading.
Currently, if employees wish to form a union they have to gain signatures of at least 50 percent of their workmates and then have a secret ballot election a month or so later. In that time between the collecting of the cards and the election, management hires a consulting firm to help them scare employees into voting against a union, harassing the organizers, and looking the other way when there are illegal activities to keep a union out.
Letters to employee homes, postings on bulletin boards, and face-to-face meetings are used to threaten anyone who votes for a union. Employees are told the place will be shut down or layoffs may happen. They are told that union organizers are crooks who will steal their union dues and don’t work for the employees, etc. Organizers at work are constantly watched, and any infraction, real or made up, is documented and used to fire them or to get them to quit.
If you don’t think that happens, then you don’t have farther to look then the efforts to unionize Consolidated Biscuit in McComb. My mother tried at least three times to unionize the place in the late 1980s before she was fired. Her case went through the NLRB process for a couple of years, and like all legal cases the company wore her out and she dropped the case so she could collect her pension.
EFCA would allow the workers a choice to avoid an election so it would lessen the thuggery management is allowed to do now. I support each side being given the chance to convince workers of their position, but the current laws and rules favor management and allow them to lie and intimidate without fear of punishment. EFCA would include stronger penalties for such actions.
Forcing arbitration would lessen another stalling tactic management uses to keep out a union by not bargaining in good faith, just to drag out negotiations as long as possible.
Having or not having a union doesn’t prevent a business from moving jobs or closing plants. Just ask Cooper Tire.