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Seminar reviews bill to make unionization easier

November 17, 2010

Legislation in Congress that would make workplace unionization exponentially easier could become law as soon as January. For union organizing elections, the bill would replace the secret ballot with a system of "card checks" that would permit union organizers to pressure coworkers to publicly sign a card stating they want to join a union.

Workers potentially would not have the option of voting against union membership, and millions of workers could be forced into a union without ever getting the chance to vote on the matter.

"And even if you’re already unionized, you can become more unionized," as other departments like salespeople and clerical workers join the fray, said DavidRadelet. "All of a sudden, everyone’s in play."

Radelet, who leads the CATA’s labor relations team from Franczek Radelet & Rose, coordinated a CATA seminar Oct. 22 that examined the repercussions of the Employee Free Choice Act. Several of Radelet’s colleagues also spoke.

If it is enacted, the EFCA would represent arguably the biggest shift in the balance of labor-management power since the Wagner Act of 1935. Under current law, union authorization cards are used merely to get an election, not to determine union representation. That gives the employer five to six weeks to respond before the vote to unionize.

On its face, the EFCA appears counter to a fundamental principle of American democracy, that votes are private choices. Without secret ballot elections, workplaces could be converted into union shops if organizers gather signatures from a majority of employees. Organizers subsequently could strong-arm those who opposed such a petition.

A union then could demand that an employer begin bargaining with it 10 days after the union is certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for an appropriate unit of employees via the card check. If a collective bargaining contract cannot be finalized 120 days later, the matter would be decided by arbitration that would be binding for two years.

If the EFCA becomes law, Radelet said employers should assume they are under a perennial card-signing drive because the organizers won’t come forward until they have the signatures of a majority of workers.

That means employers must conduct comprehensive campaigns to provide employees the information they need to make an informed decision as to whether they should choose union representation.

But what are the motives to unionize?

Studies have shown that obtaining an increase in wages or benefits is not the primary reason employees become interested in union representation. More often, employees who feel they are not afforded dignity, respect and appreciation are likely to be key targets for union organizers.

Other workers who feel their employer does not listen to their concerns also may consider a union if they feel the presence of a union would increase their power to influence their working conditions.

Employers must emphasize their history of providing good jobs and the positive aspects of the present work environment—and that the organization’s success to date was achieved as a union-free workplace.