Union organizers offer workers false choice

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
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Will Barack Obama unite or divide working Americans?

A federal bill that would change the way employees join unions is sparking contentious debate in the Capital Region.

Under the current law, if more than 30% of an employer's workforce sign a card affirming they would like to join a union, the employer can request a secret ballot in which all employees vote. The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the secret ballot, allowing the shop to unionize if more than 50% of the workforce simply sign the cards. In that case, every worker would not necessarily have a say in whether to join a union.

"I find nothing about this legislation that would, in any way, refer to employee free choice," said Price Chopper CEO Neil Golub, a staunch opponent of the bill. "As a matter of fact, it's exactly the opposite."

Golub contends pushy union organizers can pressure employees into signing the card to join a union. But union leaders counter that pushy managers pressure employees into voting 'no' in secret ballot elections.

"Yes, technically no one sees the box you check," said Fareed Michelen, of the Capital District Area Labor Federation. "But the level of harassment and intimidation you go through to actually get to the point of checking that box sways many people's vote to the negative."

While Golub and Michelen agreed that every employee should have a voice, Golub said his 24,500 Price Chopper employees do not want or need a union. During the past 40 years, the handful of attempts to unionize the supermarket chain have been voted down, he said.

"I don't think our employees need a union," Golub said, "and I don't think this company needs a union."

Asked why not, he replied, "It would get in the way."

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Though Stop & Shop and other supermarket chains have been profitable with a union workforce, Golub said Price Chopper would probably suffer a decrease in profit. Besides, he said, his employees enjoy good pay and benefits. The chain's lowest-paid worker earns more than minimum wage, and the company is offering a competitive new health benefits package, he said.

Michelen, the union leader, countered, "I think he realizes that if workers get a voice...that will affect his personal play money."

Golub called the Employee Free Choice Act "political payback" from the Democrats to the unions who financially supported them in the election. Golub admittedly contributed campaign funding to Republican candidates who oppose the bill.

With Democratic leadership in Congress and President-elect Barack Obama supporting the legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act seems likely to pass next year. President Bush and Congressional Republicans have said they strongly oppose it.


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