Special Report

Card Check Means Union Slavery

A losing proposition for everyone save bosses and goons and their Democrat protectors.

By 3.25.09

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Suppose to vote in state and national elections you weren't allowed a secret ballot behind a curtain. Suppose to vote you had to go downtown and vote in the baseball stadium, where your choices would be flashed on the scoreboard, before a howling mob. Your boss, and your co-workers, and your neighbors would all know who you voted for.

That is how the unions and liberal Democrats want to change the law in regard to employees choosing whether they want a union.

For decades now, employees have been able to vote in secret ballot certification elections to determine whether they really wanted a union in their work place. In about half of these elections, for many years now, the workers have said no to the union.
 

Workers v. Unions

Why would workers not want a union? First, unions are expensive. Union dues for major, national unions now often run $500 to $600 a year. Once you get a union in your workplace, if you don't pay the dues, in most states you are automatically fired. Unless your state has a right-to-work law, once your employer signs a contract with a union, you must join it and pay its dues whether you want to or not.

Moreover, your union may call a strike when you can't afford not to work and miss your paycheck. Under current law, you can still cross the picket line and continue working. But you are then subject to union harassment and even violence, even after the strike ends. And check it out for yourself: there is a long history of union violence.

In addition, if you work hard and try to get ahead, the union often works against you. Union work rules routinely require advancement based on seniority in the union, not hard work, skill, and productivity.

Unions also have a bad history of driving the employer into the ground over the years, with unnecessary costs and excessive demands, resulting in fewer and fewer jobs, until the employer is finally gone. Remember the once mighty, now long gone, major steel industry? All that is left today of U.S. Steel, once challenged as a monopoly, is the logo. Now it's the once mighty auto industry going down. If these great engines of capitalism can be brought down, what chance does a medium or small business have?

Unions also routinely suffer corruption. Dues are diverted for the personal gain of union leaders. Union pension funds are looted. Check out this history yourself as well.

Finally, unions use billions in forced union dues to promote ultraliberal/far left politicians and political causes that many union workers may not support, or even oppose. As liberal academics Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele have written,

[O]rganized labor is still the most effective political force for electing liberal candidates at the local, state and federal levels. Once in office, pro-labor [meaning liberal left] politicians are typically also the strongest advocates of funding for public schools and higher education,…gay rights, [and] universal health insurance [meaning socialized medicine].

And where do these liberal politicians stand on your gun rights, or on abortion, or on vouchers for your church school, or on taxes?

After all of this, is your union bureaucracy responsive to the concerns of individual workers? Or does the bureaucracy expect individual workers to be responsive to the union bureaucracy's concerns over its power and personal perks for union leaders?
 

Unions vs. Free Choice

The controversy over card check legislation shows how concerned union bureaucracies are regarding the wishes of the workers. This legislation bears the Orwellian name "The Employee Free Choice Act." It would end secret ballot elections for deciding whether the workers want a union -- elections, remember, where the workers have rejected the union half the time.

Instead union organizers would take a card endorsing union representation to individual workers to sign. These union organizers know where you work, where you live, where your car is parked in the parking lot. They probably know where your kids go to school. They may have kids at that school as well. A group of them can come to your house after work and ask you to sign the card. Are you going to tell them no to their face? Is this really a free choice? Are many going to tell them no after one incident of slashed tires or a broken windshield, at home or at work, or a kid harassed at school? Again, there is a long history of union violence. Intimidation and harassment are routine union practices.

Under the proposed law, once 51% of the workers at a workplace sign a union authorization card, the union is automatically recognized as the bargaining representative at that workplace. What about the other 49% who may not want a union and may not have even been asked to sign a card? They and their views on the issue would no longer matter. Unless they are in the minority of states with a right to work law, because 51% of their co-workers signed union authorization cards, freely or through intimidation, all workers at that workplace would be required to join the union and pay its dues, or be automatically fired.

Besides the threat of union violence, in this process the workers signing the cards hear only from the union. They do not hear from the other side, the cons as well as the pros of union membership. The union may make them wild promises. It may tell them lies about the employer, what he is paying others, how much the company is making in profits that could go to workers. The union may not tell the worker what the dues would be, or whether he will later have a choice of joining the union, or even whether there will be a later election regarding the union.

There is no lie for unions and their advocates too big to tell. They say under card check the workers would still have the right to call for an election after 51% signed the union authorization cards. But this is not true. It is the union that would be able to call for an election at that point, not the workers. But why would the union call for any election, when under the new law the union would automatically be named as the exclusive union for that worksite, while unions lose 50% of actual elections. If you are an individual worker and you want an election, where would you go to get it? Organize your own election?

Unions also say they need card check to displace secret ballot elections because employers stifle those elections by firing workers who are pro-union. But the first principle of labor law, adopted in the 1930s, has long been that employers are prohibited from firing workers based on their support for a union. Doing so is an unfair labor practice that will be penalized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with fines and the loss of employer rights. Unions say employers unreasonably delay elections. But the median time between filing for a union election and the actual election is 39 days, a fair time to debate the issue.

The majority of even union workers favor a chance to hear the other side, and secret ballot elections on whether they want a union. But the unions don't care what the workers think. They are trying to use the liberal Democrats they have bought with overwhelming contributions to take away any worker rights regarding unions.
 

Taking Free Out of Free Enterprise

But there is more to this incredibly destructive legislation. Once a union is recognized by a workplace, the employer has 120 days to agree to a union contract. Otherwise, a government arbitrator will dictate a contract between the union and the employer covering the next two years.

In other words, once a union organizer shows up with union authorization cards signed by 51% of workers, the employer has effectively lost control of his business. Union contracts routinely cover wages, benefits, conditions of employment. The government arbitrator can impose a contract providing that the employer not only pay higher wages than competitors, but also provide specified health coverage for all employees. It can require pension coverage through a multi-employer pension plan that imposes stiff penalties for any later withdrawal. It can also require paid family leave.

Union contracts can also impose costly work rules. For example, one may say that only the union electrician can replace light bulbs. Another might prohibit the contracting out of any work, or even prohibit the introduction of new labor saving technologies.

So if you are a small business, and an organizer shows up with those signed cards, the only reasonable response from the employer is to hand the organizer the keys to the business and go home. You can then start a new small business based almost entirely on contracted out workers, who cannot be unionized. With that business model, you can probably drive your former, now union run, company out of business.

Current law, by contrast, is based on the principle of negotiation and agreement between the parties themselves. Employers are required to bargain in good faith. They can't refuse to meet with the union at all, or refuse to enter into any contract. These would again be unfair labor practices resulting in fines and other punishments for the employer. The NLRB, after receiving a complaint, would determine whether the employer really is bargaining in good faith or not.

This sound policy helps to prevent the union from imposing unrealistic demands on the employer that will just drive the company out of business. This is really a protection for workers as well as employers, because it serves to protect their jobs. But with mandatory government arbitration, these essential protections for employers as well as workers are lost.

Such mandatory arbitration is going to cause widespread business bankruptcies, massive job losses, and soaring unemployment. Companies will probably organize themselves more and more on the contracted out business model, with less protections for workers than today.
 

Bad Union Jokes

Nevertheless, union advocates of the card check bill are actually arguing that it will promote economic recovery. This is like arguing that heavy drinking before playing basketball will enhance your shooting percentage.

The facts about the performance of the economy under heavy unionism are just the opposite. For example, a 2007 study found that full time employees in the 10 states with the highest levels of unionization earned on average $3,400 less than in the 10 states with the lowest levels of unionization, adjusting for cost of living.

Moreover, during the decade ending in 2007, the 10 least heavily unionized states enjoyed an increase in private sector job growth of almost 20%, three times the 6.4% growth for the 10 most heavily unionized states. In December, 2008, the unemployment rate in the 10 least heavily unionized states was a combined 6.9%, compared to 8.0% for the 10 most heavily unionized states.

Similarly, data from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families for 2007 showed that residents of the 10 most heavily unionized states were three times more likely to be on welfare than residents for the 10 least heavily unionized states.

Workers are actually fleeing the most heavily unionized states for the least heavily unionized states, seeking opportunity and prosperity. From April 2000 until July 2008, the 10 most heavily unionized states lost 3.6 million residents, while the 10 least heavily unionized states gained 4,4 million residents.

This is the natural result to expect from the economics of union monopoly operation. Unions reduce total national income because of the inefficiencies they introduce, such as strikes, which reduce work, or counterproductive work rules, which unnecessarily increase production costs. But they cannot reduce the share of national income going to capital. Without adequate compensation, capital will leave the system until its compensation is restored. Less capital itself will reduce wages, because workers become less productive when they have less capital to work with.

This leaves a smaller pie of labor income to be divided up. Any higher compensation for union workers must then come at the expense of other workers, particularly those who lose their jobs when employers try to adjust to higher union costs by reducing their workforce. Or union workers may ultimately receive less in wages than non-union workers, as their companies decline because they cannot compete in the globalized world economy with the extra costs of unions, while non-union companies prosper and they are ultimately able to pay better wages.

This decline of unionized companies, along with all of the reasons for workers to reject unions discussed above, is why the unionized share of the private sector work force has declined from 35% in 1954, to 23.6% in 1980, to just 7.6% today. The economics espoused by union advocates tends to be infantile, with silly notions of surplus profits lying around that unions can grab without hurting the economy. It is sad that in the most prosperous economy in world history, a true worker paradise with opportunity abounding, the only way some can think of to get ahead is through union lying, stealing, intimidation, violence, and worse, much like the pirate gangs of centuries ago.
 

Fight Back For Worker Freedom

Polls show that 81% of voters believe that each individual worker should be free to decide whether to join a union, just as with all other private sector institutions. They oppose any requirement that any worker must join a union or lose his or her job. Only 17% support such forced unionism.

Conservatives and Republicans should not only oppose the enormously counterproductive card check bill. They should respond by supporting the principle that every individual worker should be free to decide whether to join a union. Right to work legislation embodying this principle has long been advanced by the greatly underappreciated National Right to Work Committee. We should join to support such legislation at both the state and national levels.

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About the Author
Peter Ferrara is Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy at the Heartland Institute, General Counsel of the American Civil Rights Union, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and Senior Policy Advisor on Entitlements and Budget Policy at the National Tax Limitation Foundation. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush.