10/11/08

Workers disagree with Obama on secret-ballot

Daily Secret-Ballot News: here
More EFCA stories: hereMore card-check: here

Rank-and-file in fight v. Obama's workplace fascism

Controversial federal legislation targeting unions is drawing solid support from union leadership and staid distain from some workers and business leaders.

The Employee Free Choice Act says that if a majority of workers sign their names to cards favoring a union, timelines for bargaining are automatically set. After 90 days, a union could apply for arbitration, and at 120 days, the matter would go to an arbitrator. The arbitrator would decide on wages, working conditions and other issues.

That contract would then be put in place for the period originally consented to by both sides for the contract they had failed to complete negotiating.

The legislation is currently bogged down in Congress, but national union groups are spending money on ad campaigns to keep the issue in the forefront.

“The Employee Free Choice Act is good for workers. Period,” said Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, the state's largest organized union.

Joey Merrick, business manager for Laborers Local 341 in Anchorage, supports the new legislation, which he feels will offer workers a speedier method of unionizing, should they choose to.

“If people want to be union, they should be. If they don't want to be, they don't have to be,” he said.

Glenn Spencer, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the measure is a dramatic rewrite of the nation's labor laws.

“We think it's one-sided,” he said. “Every position is designed to take shots at employers. It denies the employer the ability to make their case to workers during union-organizing campaigns. With the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) everybody gets a chance to make their case.”

But union leaders say the current methods gives employers the upper hand as businesses try to keep unions out. Employees seeking a union are a captive audience when employers call meetings and go through a playbook of reasons why they shouldn't form a union, Beltrami said. John Palmatier, executive secretary treasurer of the Alaska Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents all carpenter unions in the state, agreed.

Those opposing the measure, including some longtime union workers, say their biggest concern is the loss of the secret ballot method historically used. Conducted similar to a government election for, say president, a ballot is filled out privately, with only the person casting the ballot knowing its contents. No names are attached.

Stephan Patterson, a member of the Carpenter's Union for 34 years, said the legislation opens the ballot up to scrutiny, allowing union leadership see how workers voted. That allows the opportunity for union leaders to intimidate.

“My gripe and the gripe of many of us is that these union reps now have taken so much power away and destroyed the democracy in the unions,” Patterson said.

“What this does is allow, once the union gets 50 percent plus one, they become the representative of the employees without the (secret ballot) election,” said Bill Watterson, owner of Watterson Construction Co., a non-union construction firm.

“The right to a secret ballot is fundamental in the U.S.,” said Jennifer Spall, public affairs spokeswoman for Walmart, where unions have tried unsuccessfully for years to organize.

But the idea that the legislation bans the secret ballot is incorrect, according to Merrick, with the Laborers union. Merrick said that if 30 percent of the employees voting in the election want a secret ballot, they can still have a secret ballot election.

Most people are simply more comfortable with the secret ballot, and that's a sticking point with George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate and former senator for South Dakota.

“I believe in the principal of the secret ballot,” said McGovern, now with the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University. “If I am going to vote for a senator or congressman, I like to cast my vote without somebody looking over my shoulder. I've been a strong friend of labor in all of my public career. The importance of the secret ballot; I hate to see this given up. There are a handful of labor leaders really interested in this, thinking they will get more union contracts this way. They may be right.”

In an article written in August for the Wall Street Journal, McGovern said of the Employee Free Choice Act, “Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.

“The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized,” McGovern wrote. “Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50 percent of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as Ôcard-check.' There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.”

The AFL-CIO's Beltrami said that sometimes the current method simply doesn't work for the employees to want to organize.

“One of the worst examples in Alaska was Nabors Drilling,” he said. “It took 11 years from the time they (the workers) first started organizing to the time they gave up and abandoned contract negotiations.”

Nabors workers voted to join the Laborers Union Local 341 in Anchorage and Local 942 in Fairbanks, but in the end, they never got a contract, he said.

Another example is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers won a couple of elections with the Red Dog mine, but has yet to get a contract, and that has been going on for at least three years, he said.

(alaskajournal.com)

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