Authorizing unions without elections

Union dues matter more than worker-rights

An worker-rights group in Washington, D.C. has taken out full-page ads in Oregon’s two biggest daily newspapers questioning Senate candidate Jeff Merkley’s support for a change in how labor unions are formed. The ads in The Register-Guard and The Oregonian on Thursday describe Merkley's support for the “card-check” method of winning employee approval for unionizing private workplaces as a substitute for secret-ballot elections.

Merkley, a Democrat, supports federal legislation allowing the card-check approach, while the Republican senator he is challenging, Gordon Smith, has opposed it.

The ads were taken out by a group called The Employee Freedom Action Committee, which is run out of the office of lobbyist Rick Berman.

“Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary Tuesday through a mailed private ballot by Oregon Citizens,” the ad states. “Yet he supports eliminating the right to a private vote when unions are enlisting new members. Hard to believe?”

Merkley spokesman Matt Canter called the ad a distortion meant to mask the anti-worker sentiments of the “shadowy organization” behind it.

“Unfortunately, Oregonians are going to see a lot of distortions from the powerful special interests that are supporting Gordon Smith’s candidacy,” he said.

Tim Miller, a spokesman for The Employee Freedom Action Committee, said his group gets a majority of its financing from businesses that oppose the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress.

It passed the House and had support from a majority in the Senate.

But enough Republicans, including Smith, voted last year to prevent it from coming up for a vote.

Miller said his group is concerned that, if voters elect a Democratic president and more Democratic senators, such a law could pass.

Currently, employers can decide whether workers can use the card-check approach or conduct an election in forming a union.

Under the card-check approach, organizers pass out cards to workers, meeting with them outside the workplace to ask for their support in forming a union. If more than 50 percent of workers sign the cards, a union would be formed.

If an employer chooses not to recognize these cards, then labor organizers must convince enough union-eligible workers to sign cards calling for a campaign on whether to unionize. Then an election is held, with the union and the employer conducting campaigns and private ballots determining the outcome.

Rebekah Orr, spokeswoman for the Oregon AFL-CIO, said employers often go with the election approach, calling it “the method that allows them the most opportunity to scare people, intimidate people and make the workplace hostile enough that people won’t vote to join a union,” she said.

Rather than make the case to the public that the card-check method is bad for employers who want to keep unions out, the Employee Freedom Action Committee is arguing that the law would be bad for workers.

“Our organization looks out for the rights of the employees. It’s the employees who are going to have their right to privacy, their right for a private vote, taken away,” Miller said. He contended that because the cards would be accessible by other workers and employers, coercion or intimidation could influence workers’ decisions in ways not possible with a private ballot.

Merkley’s spokesman, Canter, disagreed.

“This is one of many ways to allow working men and women to thrive, to assure good quality jobs with health care and child care benefits,” he said.

Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator’s opposition to the card-check approach wasn’t a reflection of his position on labor organizing but on privacy rights.

“Sen. Smith believes that workers should have the right to form a union,” Hammond said. “He wants individual workers to make their decision in private — just like every voter does when they drop their ballot in the mail.”


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