State of Labor Day

Here's a quick wrap for Labor Day 2008.

Barack Obama: The One's political ops are soaking up union dues at 150 times the rate of John McCain's campaign - and that's only what's disclosed. This despite nearly 40% of union members not supporting their union's political agenda. Story: here

EFCA: The horribly misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act" is a dud - especially among union members - and anti-EFCA ads are getting the ear of receptive voters across the country. Slate.com even suggested that Barack back-off the idea of forcing disinterested workers into a union without a vote; story is: here. Union bigs' myths about 'card-check' are getting debunked left and right in the media - see stories: here

SEIU: Over the past week, The Los Angeles Times' Paul Pringle has chronicled a mushrooming embezzlement scandal starring President Andy Stern's proteges. SEIU officials in California and Michigan have stepped down. Twin federal probes - by Congress and the U.S. Dept. of Labor - have been launched. Read more about it at The Times: here and here, with all the latest SEIU stories: here

International Brotherhood of Teamsters: Jim Hoffa's protectorate nabbed a prominent award last week: The year's most-decertified labor union. SEIU came in a distant second. Read the story: here

NEA: Back to school? Teachers in a Pennsylvania affiliate rejected a fact-finder twice, and are out on strike. The story is: here

ACORN: The union-backed voter fraud group and its founder, Wade Rathke, are in big trouble with elections officials all over the nation. It is reflecting poorly on ACORN's friends like Barack Obama, SEIU and TIDES Foundation. Stay updated on all the latest ACORN stories and videos: here

TIDES: Another embezzlement has been revealed at leftist Drummond Pike's politically-edged charity - that has given away $ billions to collectivist causes. Earlier, Pike was exposed for covering up a $ 1 million embezzlement crime from ACORN by the brother of Wade Rathke; the stories are: here


Labor Day celebrates union political power

More worker-choice stories: here

After eliminating secret-ballots, unions set sights on canceling worker-choice in 'right-to-work' states

On September 1st, Labor Day, cities across the country will hold barbecues, parades, and picnics. On this reprieve from our work routine, it's worth reflecting on what we're celebrating. It is also a good time to ponder some proposed labor-law changes that would affect all workers.

Human labor, coupled with imagination and the right economic institutions, has provided societies with a previously unimaginable level of prosperity and standard of living. Human labor is a dynamic process through which individuals add value to raw materials and give form to ideas only previously imagined.

At the heart of the labor process is the opportunity for individuals to provide for themselves and their families a standard of living based on their own hard work, ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, Labor Day is associated not with human labor itself but unionism.

The first Labor Day in 1882, in New York City, was connected with the labor movement. It remains so today, even though only 7.5 percent of private sector workers in the United States are members of a union. If public-sector workers are included, the number of union members rises to 12.1 percent, but even by that figure nearly 90 percent of American workers, the vast majority, are not union members.

This disconnect between labor and unionism is currently at the heart of a movement to radically change a whole series of labor laws. These changes are largely about increasing the power of unions and union leaders, and have little to do with helping average workers and their families. The first item on the list is changing the way unions are certified as bargaining agents.

Currently, unions are required to collect a preliminary show of support by 30 percent of the workers in order to trigger a certification vote. Workers then make a decision regarding the pros and cons of union representation in the privacy of a voting booth. The unions want to dump this and implement what is referred to as "card check."

This means that unions could be certified as the exclusive agent for workers without any secret ballot vote if enough workers (50%+1) sign union cards in the preliminary stage. Research indicates that card check boosts union success rates increase by at least 19 percent, which explains the zeal for change on the part of union bosses.

There is also discussion of undoing a section of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that allows for Right-to-Work (RTW) legislation. RTW allows workers to choose whether or not to become union members if their company becomes unionized and permits them to opt out of all union dues.

Any U.S. worker, regardless of the presence of RTW laws, can opt-out of union dues not related to their bargaining and representation, usually political and social spending. Eliminating the right of workers to free association will result in higher union rates and more money paid to unions.

The unions, generally supported by the Democrats, also want to weaken or scale back their public disclosure requirements. Currently, unions are required to submit standardized financial disclosure documents to the Department of Labor, which then posts the reports on its website. Such a system permits any interested citizen to examine the financial performance and dealings of any U.S.-based union. Many unions seek to pull down the shades on the light of scrutiny, and turn back the clock to times when their activities were less transparent.

By some estimates, organized labor is expected to spend $1 billion this campaign season in the hopes of increasing the Democratic majority and electing Barack Obama as president. The goal is to kill off secret-ballot certification, implement card check, weaken or even eliminate right-to-work laws, and reduce union financial transparency.

These issues will adversely affect all workers, and Labor Day is a good time to ponder the implications. This holiday is for all American workers, not just the 12 percent in unions, and should center on the wonders of human endeavor. On September 1, let the celebration begin.


Embezzlement epidemic infects SEIU

Andy Stern's cronies in California, Michigan have stepped down

A Los Angeles union leader has stepped down and her ex-boyfriend has been told to repay tens of thousands of dollars he got from the union.

The Service Employees International Union acknowledged yesterday that its top California officer, Annelle Grajeda, has taken a leave of absence while the union examines allegations that she was improperly involved in paying her ex.

Grajeda, who was president of a Los Angeles local representing 77,000 county workers, told the Los Angeles Times she's confident that a union investigation will exonerate her of wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, the SEIU says it's demanding her ex, former union official Alejandro Stephens, return the union money he received. Financial filings show Stephens received $89,000 in fees and business disbursements last year.

Two other SEIU leaders have taken leaves of absence recently and its finances are under investigation after reports that another union local misspent $1 million of member dues.


Front-group lays in $5 million for TV ads

More Barack Obama stories: here

Union-backed 'charity' floods cable with pro-Barack political ads targeting key U.S. Senate territories

A labor advocacy group will begin airing $5 million worth of ads Monday on national cable and in targeted states to press for legislation that would allow workers to organize without secret ballot elections.

The ads, to launch on Labor Day by American Rights at Work, do not name either presidential candidate, but the message of economic hardship dovetails with Democratic nominee Barack Obama's campaign themes. The national ads will appear on CNN, MSNBC and CNN Headline News.

The ads also will appear in states with vulnerable Republican senators - New Hampshire, Maine, Alaska, Minnesota and Oregon. The ads, expected to air at least four weeks, urge viewers to call the senators to demand their support for the legislation.

American Rights at Work is a 501(c)3 organization. Its ads are issue-based and do not call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

The legislation, a top priority for organized labor, would require employers to recognize unions after being presented union cards signed by a majority of eligible workers on their payrolls. Under current labor law, a company can demand a secret ballot election supervised by the federal government after being presented the union cards.

The Senate last year blocked an effort to pass the legislation; the House approved it in March 2007.

"CEOs' salaries and benefits are getting fatter and fatter, while workers face soaring gas prices, foreclosures and rising health care costs," the ad's announcer states. "The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers the freedom to form a union so they can earn better wages, retirement security and health care coverage."

The ad portrays a well-dressed, heavyset businessman seesawing with a worker and losing his advantage as more workers outweigh him.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a group backed by chambers of commerce, business groups and conservative organizations, has been campaigning against the legislation with its own ads in key states.


Labor Day: A celebration of union politics

Holiday becomes annual gripe-fest by union operatives

Labor Day started as — and remains today — a tribute to Americans’ hard work. What better way to pay tribute than to grant workers a day off? Fire up the barbecue!

In the late 1800s, Labor Day was more about parades and festivals for workers and their families than it was about a day off or a long weekend at the beach. Speeches and rallies for workplace improvements were prominent. Labor Day was more a celebration of cause than a vacation.

The first Labor Day is thought to have been organized by the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882. By 1893, more than half of the states were observing Labor Day and Congress established it as a federal holiday in 1894.

Because it is an election year, Labor Day likely will be celebrated with more speeches than normal. They’ll center on the labor movement’s causes, past and present — and on which presidential candidate organized labor feels will carry its flag (answer: Barack Obama).

Unions have played an important role in workplace history. Protecting coal miners and other workers from dangerous conditions and fighting to ensure better treatment of people doing some of the nation’s hardest physical labor is noble work. Unions have rightly fought child labor, and they’ve been instrumental in the formation and expectation of an eight-hour-work day.

Workers should continue to have the choice to unionize, allowing a group of leaders to represent employees and negotiate wages and other details of their employ. But Labor Day and the labor movement should always be about the workers, not unions or union politics. And this Labor Day, this election year, it’s looking as if the labor movement has that all backward.

Right now, labor unions are fighting for legislation and policies that will rob workers of secret ballot procedures regarding union organization. (The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act. Despite its name, it is far from offering employees’ free choices.) And unions continue to fight against Right to Work laws in various states. Those laws allow workers to resist being part of a union without losing their job.

It’s no wonder unions are willing to trump individual rights. Of the 154.5 million people 16 and older in the nation’s labor force, the Census Bureau says only 15.6 million are union members. Union membership has been on the decline for decades. Rather than take that decline as a testament to the progress made on behalf of workers in more than a century’s time, the unions fear having fewer people to extract union dues from and having a smaller pool of people signed on to advance labor’s political views.

But lawmakers should stand behind workers, not unions. And they should take into account that the vast majority of full-time workers receive employee health benefits, paid vacation time and paid holidays. Work conditions have improved so much over time that 15 percent of workers even have access to employer assistance for child care, government data show.

Instead of singing its own praises and complimenting those employers doing right by their workers, organized labor is eager to remain one of the largest, richest special interests in America — at any cost. And taking away secret ballot procedures for workers and lobbying for compulsory union membership sure seems a long way from the parades and festivities that were planned for workers in the 1800s.


No secret-balloting allowed

More card-check stories: here

The card-check party

Democrats narrowly avoided a major embarrassment before holding their abbreviated roll call of the states here on Wednesday night.

Politico.com reported that the Obama campaign was seriously considering letting delegates vote by secret ballot, the better to avoid intimidation and fear of reprisal from local party bosses. But the plan -- which was pushed on the Obama camp by supporters of Hillary Clinton -- was suddenly dropped when it was realized that a key plank of the Democratic Party platform backs a so-called "card check" provision being added to the nation's labor laws. Card check would effectively strip workers of the protection of secret ballots in union elections. Business groups and former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern oppose the measure on the grounds that it exposes workers to harassment and intimidation.

That was precisely the concern of Democratic delegates who wanted to cast a secret ballot vote on the convention floor. The Obama campaign thought seriously about accommodating them until it realized how such a naked contradiction to the party's stance on union balloting might look to voters and the media.

- John Fund


Our labor organizations are outdated

Time to update our union law to Labor 2.0

Labor Day is a look back. With our neighbors, families and friends, we are asked to remember all the working man has done to build our nation. But can't we go one better and think about where we go from here? After all, our economy operates in a Web 2.0 world, but we are still running an outdated beta version of labor laws.

Few would deny that our country leads the world in applying 21st-century technology. We've created amazing social networks online. And that same technology makes our work lives hyperproductive (when we're not obsessively hitting the refresh button on the Drudge Report or checking for the latest snark at our favorite blog).

The benefits of a CrackBerry world are, in most cases, quite impressive. Untethering us from our desks by putting a globe's worth of knowledge in the palms of our hands, this technological flexibility has had a major effect on our social and work lives (at times blending them chaotically).

We join and sever social networks with the click of a mouse. And because we operate in a knowledge economy, and are therefore able to tell bad bosses where they can stuff their test procedure specification reports, our labor force is incredibly flexible.

But this flexibility hits a troubling fire wall in the laws we use to govern who can, or must, join a union. In 28 states employees are forced to pay for union representation whether they like it or not, and workers in all 50 states must let a recognized union negotiate their wages, hours and other working conditions. Worse, there's really no easy "escape" key, either, for employees who would rather go their own way.

This model, built to fight appalling work conditions and a sweatshop model, is anachronistic. As former National Labor Relations Board member John Raudabaugh told senators in July, "our adversarial, Depression-era industrial 'relations' model and applicable law is no longer universally relevant and has not been for years."

Unfortunately, union officials fight tooth and nail against any reform of labor laws that keep employees trapped and money rolling in. After Congress passed the Teamwork for Employees and Managers Act in 1997 to provide greater flexibility in the number of ways employees could gather to talk to management, union lobbyists squashed the opportunity through a veto from President Clinton.

Since then any efforts to make it easier for employees to talk to management without the old rancor of hard-edge union fights have been deleted like male-enhancement e-mail ads. So it has been that our leaders navigate our labor laws.

At the same time, union officials are pouring hundreds of millions to pass the grossly misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, which threatens to trap millions of working Americans into unions without even getting to vote their preference in private. It's a move in exactly the wrong direction.

There has to be a better way, one that reflects the reality that our work world is run not just by dockworkers but also by iPhone docks. We have to allow freedom of markets to include freedom for employees to choose their own associations (or none at all).

The optimal solution, of course, would reformat our labor model. It would force any group representing employees to provide quality service and to be accountable to its customers — us. And though there certainly is a movement of sincere grassroots labor activists, their power within the larger labor movement is virtually nonexistent.

Union members and dedicated leaders have done much worth remembering this holiday, and more people should take the opportunity to reflect accordingly. But refusing to change, and failing to free the movement of working Americans, is ludicrous.

In short, it's time for our nation's leaders to upgrade to Labor 2.0.

- Bret Jacobson is founder and president of Maverick Strategies LLC, a firm specializing in advocating for businesses and free-market think tanks.


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Labor Day deception: False choice for workers

More EFCA stories: here

Congress wants to force disinterested workers into labor unions

Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan's commentary laments the "union bashing" in TV and radio ads run by the Employee Freedom Action Committee, which expose Big Labor's hidden agenda to do away with secret balloting when workers are deciding whether to organize a union.

The misnamed and misleading Employee Free Choice Act, supported by union officials nationwide, would replace private ballot elections with a process that would reveal how each worker votes.

Union organizers could openly solicit and even coerce workers into signing a request to become unionized. According to Londrigan, this new system would be better for workers as opposed to their current ability to cast a private ballot. He and other proponents of the bill are willing to toss out nearly 70 years of labor law and a worker's right to a secret ballot.

Fortunately, there is a strong sentiment to protect a worker's right to private ballot. A recent Mclaughlin & Associates Poll has shown that 89 percent, nearly 9 in 10 respondents, support a worker's right to a private ballot. Furthermore, 87 percent say a federally supervised secret ballot is the best way to protect a worker's right. Having a worker sign a card that would be made public is not the way to prevent harassment or undue influence from unions or business.

The House passed the bill in 2007, mainly along party lines, but Big Labor's rubber stamps in the Senate could muster only 51 votes, short of the 60 they needed to end floor debate.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports the so-called free choice disaster. Democratic U.S. Reps. Ben Chandler of Versailles and John Yarmuth of Louisville voted for the deceptive, union-driven bill and continue to support it.

The National Labor Relations Board has administered secret-ballot elections for years. The unions' problem with the system stems from the continued drop in their membership, and they need their benefactors in Congress to stop the decline.

If more than 50 percent of the workers at any given company want to consider unionization, so be it. Let the ballot box be the place to determine the outcome, not some deceptive federal bill that would make hanky-panky the law.

This bill isn't wanted by the merit shop or union shop workers of Kentucky or the nation; it's wanted by labor unions to increase membership and help bankroll their financial support for Big Labor-friendly politicians.

- William Parson of Louisville is president and CEO of the Associated Builders & Contractors of Kentuckiana.


Small business expert fears stacked deck

More card-check stories: here

New card-check law would make disinterested workers irrelevant

Unions haven't really been an issue in Virginia, but that would change if Big Labor gets Congress to pass a law making it easier for them to organize.

It wouldn't matter that we're a right-to-work state with one of the country's lowest membership rates -- 3.7 percent, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the union bosses get their way, membership would grow as workers are robbed of the right to cast secret ballots on whether to organize.

Instead, the unions want something called "card check." Union bosses want the power to organize a workplace simply by "persuading" a majority of workers to sign a card. Union organizers could approach workers in the parking lot or even at home and bully them into the signing cards.

Once the union had enough signatures, a business would have no choice but to sign a contract. If the two parties couldn't come to terms within a set number of days, a federal bureaucrat would step in and dictate wages and other benefits.

IT'S ENCOURAGING that a majority of Americans think this is a really bad idea.

Last year, when the issue was last before Congress, a survey by the respected Virginia-based polling firm McLaughlin & Associates found that almost four in five voters opposed card-check legislation that would have the government dictate wages and benefits if employers couldn't come to terms with the unions on their own.

But despite the overwhelming public opposition, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called Employee Free Choice Act by a vote of 241-185. In the Senate, supporters failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate and allow a vote on the bill. Still, the vote was 51 for ending debate and 48 against.

Big Labor, though, isn't giving up. Card check is still high on Big Labor's political agenda, and depending on who wins in November, labor may be even stronger than it was last time around.

As state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Virginia's leading small business association, I am especially concerned about what all this means to small, family-owned businesses.

People seem to think that anyone who owns a business is rich, but there's a big difference between an auto plant and a repair shop. Our members aren't rich -- some do better than others, but most of them are simply trying to make a decent living.

The truth is, small business owners work for a living. They do the books, but they also sweep up and take out the trash. They're struggling with everything from higher fuel costs to finding -- and keeping -- affordable health insurance. Small business owners take pride in the work they do and in treating their employees fairly. They're not making piles of money, but they believe in taking care of the people who work for them.

IF BIG LABOR and some members of Congress have their way, these small businesses -- and the people who work for them -- would have unions shoved down their throats.

If the unions and federal bureaucrats get to decide how much a small business pays its employees and what benefits it gives them, small business owners are going to have to make some tough decisions.

They're going to have to decide whether they can afford to grow. They're going to have to decide whether they can afford to add jobs. They're going to have decide whether they can even afford to stay in business.

I'm not defending greedy business owners who reap big profits on the backs of workers, but we must defend small, family-owned businesses from organized labor.

Secret ballots are a sacred part of the democratic process. It's how we elect the president and Congress, the governor and Virginia's General Assembly. Let's not throw it away simply to prop up the unions.

-Julia Ciarlo Hammond is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Virginia's leading small business association.


Dems push to eliminate secret-ballot votes

More EFCA stories: here

AFL-CIO litmus test a loser with the voting public

Ron Bullock is no stranger to union negotiations. For years, Bullock, chairman at Bison Gear & Engineering in St. Charles, has dealt with the labor union that represents many of his workers.

“In fact, we just concluded contract negotiations for the next three years,” Bullock said. But Bullock, who also serves as president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, has added his voice to a growing number of business leaders opposing federal legislation that they fear is very close to becoming law.

Known as the Employee Free Choice Act, the bill would alter the federal rules that govern how a union may organize within a business. Under the rules established by the National Labor Relations Act, workers are permitted to organize either by secret ballot elections or by a process known as card-check recognition.

Under card-check recognition, a union organizer begins the process by asking employees to sign union authorization cards. If at least 30 percent of employees sign the cards, the union can submit the cards to the employer and ask the company to recognize the organization.

Employers, however, can refuse to recognize the union based on the card checks. When this occurs, the union then can submit the cards to the National Labor Relations Board and request an election by secret ballot.

If at least 51 percent of employees then vote to authorize the union, the company must recognize the union and engage in collective bargaining with the labor representatives.

The Employee Free Choice Act, however, would overturn these rules, effectively stripping out the provision permitting employers to reject the card check and send the union authorization to a secret ballot.

The bill has gained the strong support of labor unions.

The Illinois AFL-CIO, for instance, has identified the Employee Free Choice Act as its key legislative priority, said Beth Spencer, spokesperson for the state labor organization.

She said it will level the field between workers and employers during a union organization process.

“It will eliminate the intimidation that employers use to keep people from organizing,” Spencer said.

Those tactics can include firing workers who attempt to lead a union organization, threatening to close or relocate a plant or shop should a union be authorized or use more positive techniques, like giving workers a raise to squelch the desire for a union, labor representatives said.

Toby Koth, president and business manager for the Laborers International Union Local 582 in Elgin, said the legislation should make his job of organizing shops easier.

“To a degree, I think it would,” Koth said. “I don’t know precisely how much.

“But I know that there are a lot of other sectors out there that aren’t organized, that the internationals have been wanting to go after for a while.”

Foremost on the list, he said, are employees working in health care.

“A law like this would really allow workers to have more of a voice in their workplaces,” Koth said.

Spencer said the law is also essential to encourage more speedy negotiations.

Another provision of the Employee Free Choice Act would compel employers and a labor union to enter federal arbitration should the two sides fail to reach a deal within a year.

Business groups, however, see the legislation in a much less positive light.

“It takes away people’s right to a secret ballot,” Bullock said.

The measure has been formally opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and various other business lobbying groups.

These groups have said the bill is little more than an attempt by unions to bolster their flagging membership, which has declined to just 12 percent of American workers.

“This will strip people of their rights, and it will lead to the potential for unions to coerce workers who refuse to sign the cards,” said Jim Nelson, a spokesman with the Illinois Manufacturers Association. “We think this sets a very poor precedent.”

The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but has been held up in the U.S. Senate after a Republican filibuster.

As a result, it is shaping up to be a key election issue this fall. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has pledged his support for the measure. Republican nominee John McCain opposes it.

Locally, however, the response has been much more muted.

All local businesses contacted by the Kane County Chronicle other than Bison Gear said they had little to no knowledge of the legislation.

And representatives of local chambers of commerce said they have not yet taken a position on the issue – though most said it likely would be on their agenda this fall.

Bullock said he hopes the tide can be turned against the law.

Otherwise, he worries what the change might mean for workers at shops like his when it comes time to authorize union action, such as approving a contract, as those working at Bison Gear did recently.

“They voted,” he said, “by secret ballot.”


Labor expert warns about EFCA

More EFCA stories: here

Organizing mandate would saddle workers with $10 billion in annual dues - and a lifeline for pro-union politicians

There is widespread belief that the Employee Free Choice Act -- quite possibly the most significant amendment of the National Labor Relations Act since its enactment nearly 75 years ago -- will be passed in some form in 2009, particularly if the Democratic nominee for President moves into the White House next January. Unions are definitely celebrating this Labor Day. (The House of Representatives passed EFCA (H.R. 800) by a vote of 241 to 185 on March 1, 2007. The Senate version (S. 1041) was introduced on March 30, but was pulled three months later on June 26, 2007, after a motion to invoke cloture and end a filibuster narrowly failed.)

Many have predicted that EFCA, the union movement's number one priority, would increase representation in the private sector -- presently at an all-time low of around 7% of the workforce -- to levels that have not been seen for decades. EFCA would do this by permitting the National Labor Relations Board to certify unions based solely on signed "authorization cards." Employers no longer would have the unqualified right to an NLRB-supervised election to determine bargaining obligations. That democratic process has been a hallmark of American labor relations.

There is no shortage of reasons why employers should be concerned about EFCA and doing all they can to meet the challenges that it presents. Most importantly, EFCA would virtually eliminate the secret-ballot election as the NLRB's preferred method of deciding questions concerning union representation. Under current law, when a union demands recognition the employer may insist that its employees have an opportunity to vote on the subject. If the employer declines to recognize the union voluntarily, as most do, the union typically files a petition with the NLRB and an election is held around six weeks later (assuming that no legal issues require a pre-election hearing). During the critical period leading up to that vote, the employer has an opportunity to communicate with its employees concerning the many good reasons why union representation is not in their best interest. For most companies, that opportunity to campaign is the difference between winning and losing.

Manufacturing is an area where organized labor may have the most to gain from EFCA. According to election statistics made available by the NLRB, the union win rate in that sector for the period 2003 to 2007 was the next-to-lowest of all sectors tracked -- wholesale being the lowest -- at only 45.5%. That is almost 15% lower than the overall average win rate of just under 60%. And, with the exception of the service sector, more election petitions were filed with the NLRB for manufacturing units than any other area. This tells us that the unions are adept at getting authorization cards signed by production and maintenance employees, but not nearly so good at holding on to their majority and winning elections. It also means that if EFCA had been in effect, the unions that successfully organized 787 new manufacturing shops from 2003 to 2007 would have picked up another 944! (Unions rarely request the NLRB to hold an election without cards signed by well over 50% of the employees.)

Under EFCA, if a union files a petition with authorization cards signed by a majority of the workers, the NLRB would certify it as their exclusive representative and bargaining would be required. Except for the most vigilant of employers, the opportunity pre-petition to communicate with employees concerning the risks and disadvantages of collective bargaining will be lost given the below-the-radar organizing by most unions. Once cards are signed, the employer's fate is sealed.

At this time, it is unclear what safeguards, if any, will be implemented to ensure that the Board does not certify a union based on signatures that have been solicited through fraud or coercion, a not-uncommon occurrence. The secret-ballot election has been the NLRB's way of neutralizing the effect of such improper organizing tactics, by giving employees the chance to mark a ballot in the privacy of a voting booth, whether or not they previously signed a card for the union.

EFCA also would make radical changes to the collective bargaining process that follows certification. First, it would require that negotiations for an initial contract begin within 10 days after a request for bargaining is made. Second, it would require mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service if after 90 days the employer and union are unable to reach agreement. Third, if after 30 days of mediation the parties remain unable to agree, the terms of the initial contract would be determined by an arbitration board appointed by the FMCS, rather than being left to the economic forces normally at play in collective bargaining. The resulting "agreement" would be binding for two years.The prospect of mandatory arbitration of first agreements is possibly the most alarming of the many changes that EFCA would make.

In addition, EFCA would significantly strengthen the NLRB's enforcement authority. Injunctive relief would be mandatory for many employers unfair labor practices occurring during the organizing process and while first contract negotiations are under way. It also would provide for treble back pay awards for employees discharged in reprisal for their union activity, as well as civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation.

The take-away from all this is obvious. A proactive approach to positive employee relations is absolutely essential. Among other things, employers should consider the following:

* Adopt and communicate a basic philosophy on unions in employee handbooks, stressing the value of direct dealing between employer and employees.

* Implement a lawful no-solicitation rule if one does not already exist.

* Assume vulnerability to unionization and promptly address any identified weaknesses in the area of wages and benefits before a union appears on the scene.

* Train supervisors and managers to be vigilant for signs of unionization and instill a sense of urgency about the importance of maintaining the company's union-free status.

* Inform supervisors and managers about unions so that they are ready and able to answer employee questions.

* Prepare management and employees for card-signing "blitzes" so that the union never achieves the majority necessary for NLRB certification; and

* Analyze the scope and composition of potential bargaining units, recognizing that the larger the unit, the more difficult it is for a union to attain majority status.

EFCA poses some unquestionable challenges to employers. The time to start dealing with those challenges is now! Labor is not waiting to mobilize and neither should management. A wait and see approach is a luxury that no company can afford. The risks of delaying are simply too great.

- Peter D. Conrad is a partner in the Labor and Employment Law Department at New York-based Proskauer Rose LLP.


Labor unions resist growing irrelevance

Pro-union labor laws chase away disinterested workers, jobs

The decline in membership continues, but local union leaders predict those organizations will remain relevant in Licking County and Ohio for the foreseeable future.

The area's unions have been hit particularly hard this summer, with Diebold Inc., Holophane and ArvinMeritor all announcing layoffs, sending the jobs to Mexico, North Carolina and Indiana.

Union officials blame the North American Free Trade Agreement, foreign competition, greedy companies and a struggling economy for the loss of many union jobs, but they acknowledge younger workers are not as dedicated to union activity and union causes.

Union membership dropped to 12.1 percent of the U.S. work force and 14.1 percent in Ohio in 2007. Ohio's union membership peaked at 21.3 percent in 1989 and nationwide at 20.1 percent in 1983.

"When it appears there might be a hint of a company leaving, we have met with the company and done whatever we could, but a year or two down the road, they go (elsewhere) anyway," said Ben Rayburn, of Newark, a member of the Ohio AFL-CIO executive board and vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District 54.

"The companies we see go someplace else because of the almighty dollar. At the end of the day, it's their decision, not because the mean old union made them do it."

Diebold Inc. announced earlier this month it will close its two Hebron manufacturing plants early in 2009, moving operations to Lexington, N.C. Employees are members of the International Union of Electrical and Communication Workers of America Local 84710.

Holophane, a 108-year-old Newark company, announced in June and July it would transfer 65 jobs to Mexico and Indiana this year. The local plant has lost more than 60 United Steelworkers jobs and about 90 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers positions this decade.

ArvinMeritor, the former Rockwell plant that opened in Heath in 1951, announced in June its carrier assembly line will move from Heath to North Carolina, where all its facilities are what the company calls "union-free." The workers, members of United Auto Workers Local 1037, have seen almost 200 laid off in two years.

North Carolina, one of 22 so-called right-to-work states with what unions call stricter laws on unionizing, posted the lowest rate of union membership in the nation, at just 3 percent of its workers.

"It's a tough situation right now," said Durward Masters, retired from B&O Railroad and member of the former United Transportation Union Local 404. "I've always been an optimist, but I'd hate to be starting out as a kid.

"The right-to-work states put ... I think every (union) job in Ohio is targeted."

Union officials and members at Holophane openly have stated they expect the company eventually will close the plant. The company states it is exploring every way to assure profitable growth.

ArvinMeritor has stated it will close nine of its North American plants, so workers there are nervous about their future. The company said the layoffs are a result of reducing costs to be more effective in the global market.

Gary Sites, president of Licking-Knox Central Labor Council and of United Steelworkers Local 341, said companies can be successful with union employees.

"A good company or manager could manage even with a union shop," Sites said. "All a union does is to make sure I get wages and benefits and they treat people fair."

Unions say their members help companies reduce turnover and increase productivity. Some local union officials have said they end up correcting mistakes made by employees at less-efficient non-union plants.

Hearing the theory that unions no longer are needed and eventually will die out provokes strong responses from longtime union members.

"That burns me up," Masters said. "We've taken a lot of abuse the last 20 years, since Reaganomics and the air traffic controllers.

"The benefits we attained would not have happened without unionization. The benefits for non-union people would not have been as great without the unions."

Getting rid of unions will not level the international playing field for U.S. companies and might create an even stronger labor movement, local leaders say.

"Just eliminating unions won't eliminate the problems, because we still can't compete with $2-per-hour jobs in Indonesia," Newark City Council President Marc Guthrie said.

Sites said, "The first day they kill off unions, that's the day unions come back so strong these companies' heads will spin."

Of course, a new or rejuvenated union movement will require some initiative from a new generation of activists. Veteran union members question the dedication of young workers.

Bill Dugan and Dave Henderson, two Perry County union members meeting recently at the GMP Hall on Hudson Avenue in Newark, said it's difficult to find employees willing to spend time on union activities.

"Younger people don't seem to be as interested," Dugan said. "They just do the work and go home and forget about the place until the next day. They're apathetic. We can't all be that way or things don't get done."

Henderson said, "The older guys did it for us. Looking behind for someone to follow behind our footsteps, and there's nobody there."

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