Union activists argue that government-supervised secret-ballot
organizing elections are "inherently and intensely coercive" and
that publicly signing a union membership card in the presence of
union organizers, known as card-check organizing, is the only way
that workers can freely choose to unionize. But due to union organizers'
techniques, card checks often do not reflect workers' free and
considered choice about union membership.
Even when organizers do not illegally threaten workers, card
checks expose workers to organizers' psychological manipulations
and give them only one side of the story. Card checks lead many
workers to make impulse decisions and expose workers who wish time
to consider their decision to harassment by union organizers. Cards
signed in public simply do not represent workers' free and
The privacy of the voting booth, however, protects workers from
these abuses. Government-supervised elections ensure that workers
can express their true decision after time for reflection and
without pressure or fear of harassment.
Threats and Intimidation
Private ballots ensure that workers' decisions to join or not to
join a union remain private so that no one can threaten them for
making the "wrong" choice. With card checks, both the company and
the union know how workers voted, and this exposes workers to the
possibility of retaliation. Though threats are illegal, they still
occur, and not all of them are made by employers.
A union has a direct financial stake in the outcome of an
organizing drive. If the workers organize, the union will collect 1
to 2 percent of their wages in dues. These high stakes lead some
organizers to cross the line and threaten workers who refuse to
sign union cards.
Two examples illustrate this problem. During a card-check
campaign at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, union organizers threatened
that workers who did not sign union cards would lose their jobs
when the union was recognized. In 2002, a long-time organizer for the
United Steelworkers felt compelled to quit his job after "a senior
Steelworkers union official asked me to threaten migrant
workers by telling them they would be reported to federal
immigration officials if they refused to sign check-off cards." Forcing workers
to express their beliefs in public leaves them vulnerable to
threats and can discourage them from exercising free choice.
Even when union organizers do not threaten workers, card checks
may not reveal workers' free and considered choice about joining a
In a card-check campaign, groups of organizers meet with
individual workers at their homes or elsewhere outside of the
workplace and persuade them to sign a union authorization card.
Organizers do not simply present the arguments for and against
joining the union and then ask for workers' support. Instead, they
employ psychological manipulation to induce workers' to sign. One
former union organizer described the process in congressional
They [organizers] are trained to perform a five-part house call
strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union
Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly
establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking
about what their job entails to what they would like to change
about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won't
fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing
the worker to sign a card….
Typically, if a worker signed a card, it had nothing to do with
whether a worker was satisfied with the job or felt they were
treated fairly by his or her boss.… [I]f someone told me
that she was perfectly contented at work, enjoyed her job and liked
her boss, I would look around her house and ask questions based on
what I noticed: "wow, I bet on your salary, you'll never be able to
get your house remodeled," or, "so does the company pay for day
care?" These were questions to which I knew the answer and could
use to make her feel that she was cheated by her boss. Five minutes
earlier she had just told me that she was feeling good about her
work situation. 
Signing a card after this kind of manipulation does not reflect
an employee's truly unfettered and considered choice.
Only One Side of the Story
Organizers have a job to do: recruit new dues-paying members to
their union. They are not paid to inform workers of the downsides
of unionizing. Instead, they make the strongest case they can for
joining a union and ask workers to sign their card right then. A
former union organizer explained the process:
We rarely showed workers what an actual union contract looked
like because we knew that it wouldn't necessarily reflect what a
worker would want to see. We were trained to avoid topics such as
dues increases, strike histories, etc. and to constantly move the
worker back to what the organizer identified as his or her "issues"
during the first part of the house call.
Union organizers understandably boast about the benefits unions
bring members, but they do not bring up the six-figure salaries
that union bosses pay themselves from members' dues, the fact that
hundreds of union officials have been convicted of racketeering in
the past five years, or the role that unions' inflexibility has
played in driving some companies into bankruptcy. Workers should
have the chance to hear the arguments for and against unionization
so that they can make an informed decision. That seldom happens in
a card-check campaign, where union organizers make their pitch and
then ask workers to sign their cards immediately.
With card checks, union organizers know who has and has not
signed up to join the union. This allows them to repeatedly
approach and pressure reluctant workers. With this technique, a
worker's decision to join the union is binding, while a decision to
opt out only means "not this time."
Moreover, some organizers go beyond pressure to outright
harassment. Hotel workers in Los Angeles, for example, had to seek
an injunction against union organizers after groups of eight to ten
of them harassed employees on their homes' porches late at night. A labor lawyer
explained what happened to Trico Marine employees during another
Some employees, when solicited at their homes by union
representatives, said, "No," to signing a card; yet, they reported
repeated, frequent home visits by union representatives continuing
to try to secure their signatures, and they complained to the
company of this harassment. After 8 visits, one vessel officer in
southern Louisiana had an arrest warrant issued against a union
organizer.... Employees volunteered that they signed cards just to
stop the pressure and harassment.
A card signed after union organizers' eighth pitch to a
reluctant worker hardly reflects that worker's true opinion. Nor
does a card that is signed just to prevent further harassment.
Workers should be free to choose whether or not to join a union
without having to face repeated harassment if they do not want to
Secret Ballots Reveal Workers' True
Secret-ballot elections protect workers from these abuses and
ensure that their decisions to join or not to join a union reflect
their free and considered choice. The government has structured
organizing elections so that they create "laboratory" conditions
designed to reveal workers' real desires.
With a secret ballot, neither employers nor organizers know who
intends to join the union, so they cannot threaten or harass
workers who hold the "wrong" view. A short election campaign allows
workers to hear both the benefits and costs of joining a union and
to make an informed choice after time for reflection. To prevent
either side from getting the last word, the government prohibits
employers and organizers from making mass speeches at the workplace
within 24 hours of the vote. The government also forbids both sides
from campaigning at or near the polling place on the day of the
start to finish, government supervised-elections ensure that
workers are free to express their true desires.
Publicly signed union cards do not reveal employees' free and
considered choices. They allow unscrupulous organizers to threaten
workers who refuse to sign up. Even when organizers obey the law,
card-check allows organizers to manipulate workers psychologically,
giving them only one side of the story and pushing them to make an
impulsive decision to join the union with little time for
reflection. Organizers can then return and repeatedly pressure
holdouts to change their minds. Card checks reveal little about
whether or not workers actually want to join a union, and the
government should not take away workers' right to vote in privacy
with a secret ballot when deciding to unionize.
Sherk is Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data
Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.
Nancy Schiffer, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO, before the
Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, Committee
on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, February 8,
2007, at .
Bruce Esgar, employee, MGM Grand Hotel, Las Vegas, before the
Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, Committee on Education and
the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, July 23, 2002.
testimony of Ricardo Torres, former organizer, United Steelworkers,
before the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions,
Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives,
February 8, 2007. Full testimony available from the author upon
Jen Jason, former organizer, UNITE-HERE, before the Subcommittee on
Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, Committee on Education and
Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, February 8, 2007, at .
Ron Kipling, Director of Room Operations, New Ontani Hotel and
Garden, Los Angeles, before the Subcommittee on Workforce
Protections, Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House
of Representatives, July 23, 2002.
Clyde Jacob, labor lawyer, before the Subcommittee on
Employer-Employee Relations, Committee on Education and the
Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives, April 22, 2004, at
(February 20, 2007).
Labor Relations Board, Office of the General Counsel, An Outline
of Law and Procedure in Representation Cases, July 2005,
Chapter 24, Section 320, at .