Friday, February 27, 2009


Argh -- I was happy to be home until I came in to my house this evening, and heard the barking/yapping dog who apparently is now occupying an adjoining condo. I *so* hope that a) it's visiting, and b) its people leave soon. It sounds upset -- but mostly, it sounds annoying.

The trip to Florida was really good. More on that later.

First, though, this is something that should scare the bejesus out of you -- whether you're a professional, a manager or a blue-collar worker: the Employee Free Choice Act

Be aware: this sounds like a good thing. It sounds like easier access to unionization, and an opportunity for workers to be more in control of their relationships with employers. It sounds like a real break for the middle class, and a chance to level the playing field between corporations and citizens. But there are a few key areas of the bill that make it anything but free or choice for employees.

- Employees will lose the right to secret ballot voting to certify participation in a union. Under the current laws, if a union gains 30% of the workforce's signatures on a petition/cards, they can call for a secret ballot vote to certify the union. Then, both the union and employer have the opportunity to state their position, and the employees have a secret ballot vote. The union is certified when it receives a majority of the workers' votes.

- Under the proposed legislation, union organizers can get a new union automatically certified with 50% plus one of the employees signing a certification card, which can be presented anywhere -- work, home, the gym, a bar, etc. There's no public discussion, and the employer and 50% minus one of the employees can be entirely unaware that the process is going on.

- The cards become public record -- that is, employer and union can see who signed/didn't sign. This card check scam is scary -- it leaves employees subject to harassment from employer and/or the union: depending on which way the employee 'voted.' (Incidentally, the card check system is something that American organized labor helped to stop in Mexico.)

- After 90 days of negotiation, if the employer and union cannot agree on a contract, the matter is referred to compulsory Federal mediation. If another 30 days pass, and the two sides can't agree, the case goes to binding arbitration, and both sides lose the right to make any changes to the contract -- and the subsequent contract is in place for at least two years, with no provision for changes.

- Employees who did not sign on with the union and/or employees who were not aware/informed of the process must still pay union dues. They may elect not to "join" the union, but have no recourse to independently lobby with the employer, or ability to refuse to pay the dues.

It's funny -- until reading this bill, which has been around for years but never gotten off the ground, I would have said I was pro-union. In fact, I think I'm still probably on the side of organized labor, when it's fair, protects workers from discrimination and unsafe and/or poor working conditions. Unions serve a valuable societal role, but not when their methods are corrupt -- then they become no better than the corporations that they so decry. Eliminating the secret ballot and employees' opportunities to be fully informed is a recipe for the denigration of the respect that every worker deserves; there's nothing free choice about that.

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