March 13, 2007

March 13, 2007 | Commentary on

Preserve Real Choice for Workers

Mike Ivey, an auto worker from Gaffney, S.C., doesn't like to be pushed around.

He's happy to enter the privacy of a voting booth to decide whether the factory where he works should unionize. But don't tell Ivey to choose in public -- in the face of "relentless harassment" by paid union organizers -- and expect him to see it as a victory for working men and women.

Yet that's just what lawmakers are poised to do.

Ivey recently told Congress how the United Auto Workers pressured him, fellow workers and their employer, a Daimler Chrysler subsidiary, for more than four years.

"The union's organizers refuse to take 'no' for an answer," recounted Ivey, 51, a materials handler at Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.'s plant in Gaffney. "If you told one group of organizers you were not interested, the next time they would send someone else."

UAW organizers repeatedly tried to get workers' signatures on authorization cards, exploiting a loophole in which Freightliner agreed to "neutrality." If organizers persuaded at least 51 percent of employees, the UAW automatically would become the workers' union.

Easy as that. The law's requirement for a federally supervised, fairly administered election on organizing would not apply.

"Faced with this never-ending onslaught," Ivey said, "we employees feel that the UAW is holding our heads under water until we drown."

Ivey, who helped co-workers resist with advice from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, doesn't consider it very American to roll back voting rights.

"Some employees have had five or more harassing visits [at home] from these union organizers," said Ivey. "The only way, it seems, to stop the badgering and pressure is to sign the card."

Ivey gave this account in writing for a Feb. 8 hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee. He was opposing legislation by the Democratic chairman, Rep. George Miller of California, to replace fair union elections with such "card check" pressure tactics.

The House on March 1 voted 241 to 184 to pass the bill, which bears the Orwellian title "Employee Free Choice Act" and now goes to the Senate. The measure actually makes a mockery of free choice. It prefers the agenda of union bosses over the right to confidential ballots enjoyed by workers for more than 60 years.

Congress originally intended the current, carefully balanced process to protect workers from harassment, intimidation, violence or other reprisals from employer and union alike.

So what goes on here?

Big Labor, whose PAC contributions helped secure Democratic victories in November, is desperate to drive up union membership. Its current 12 percent of the work force is a post-World War II low.

Union bosses made this change their top goal. They know it's more practical to pressure and manipulate workers face to face than within the sanctity of a voting booth. Yet they audaciously claim "card check" organizing protects workers from what AFL-CIO lawyer Nancy Schiffer calls the "inherently and intensely coercive environment" of the work place.

The facts, as well as common sense, show otherwise.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), responsible for overseeing union elections, investigates and resolves alleged violations of the law. Unions claim that employers routinely fire workers for supporting a union, but NLRB data reveals that happens in only 1.5 percent of elections. Labor claims of widespread intimidation are almost entirely baseless, according to NLRB findings.

Unions, by the way, won in over 60 percent of the elections. And those for whom the unions claim to speak don't want to see the end of confidential ballots.

A McLaughlin poll in January found 79 percent of Americans oppose such "card check" legislation. About 66 percent of union members agree employers shouldn't skip elections before recognizing a union, which this bill would make the rule rather than the exception.

No wonder the White House promises a presidential veto.

Interestingly, both Miller and the bill's Senate sponsor, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), count themselves as champions of voting rights. In 2001, Miller was among House liberals who wrote Mexican officials urging them to "use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections" as a way to "bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace."

It's a principle Mike Ivey urges lawmakers to embrace now.

"Everyone in public office is elected by secret ballot vote," the auto worker told them.

"Please give us a chance in our work place to make the decision on representation in the same manner."

James Sherk is Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Sherk Research Fellow, Labor Economics
Center for Data Analysis

First appeared in the Washington Post