Calif. workers reject ILWU by secret ballot

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"card-check stories: here

Union had demanded card-check, but workers' rights were protected by private balloting

After a four-year organizing campaign by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, workers at Sacramento's Blue Diamond Growers voted by secret ballot Wednesday not to unionize.

Workers at the plant voted against unionizing by a margin of more than 2-to-1, according to a tally provided by lead ILWU organizer Agustin Ramirez. The final tally was 353-142, he said.

However, Ramirez said he had heard reports of "major violations of labor law" from Blue Diamond workers in the run-up to the vote. If true, he said, the union will file an objection with the National Labor Relations Board.

Blue Diamond, which employs about 500 workers at its C Street plant, has been nonunion throughout its 98-year history.

Employees voted against unionization in a 1990 secret ballot by a similar margin of more than 2-to-1.

Wednesday's vote marked a double defeat for union supporters.

Since 2004, ILWU has pushed for what's called a "card check" vote, whereby organizers can solicit votes from individual workers. The card check vote gives organizers a chance to counter what they say are company scare tactics.

Blue Diamond has consistently favored a secret ballot.

Despite winning support from the City Council and other local leaders, the union did not get the almond giant to agree to the change.

Under federal labor law, labor groups can call for a unionization vote, but the employer determines whether it will be by card check or secret ballot.

Two years ago, the City Council voted 6-3 to pass a resolution urging Blue Diamond to allow a card check vote. It was nonbinding because the city has no jurisdiction over labor issues at a private firm.

Some council members said Blue Diamond opened itself to public scrutiny when it accepted a multimillion-dollar incentive package from the city in 1995.

Blue Diamond handles almonds for about 3,000 California farmers. Its Sacramento plant is the world's largest tree-nut factory. The cooperative recently reported record annual sales of $711 million.


U.S. Senate on card-check hot seat

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Analysts identify the solons who stand between workplace democracy and fascism

Well, with the election out of the way, I guess we can get back to the real issues we will face. Remember the deceitfully-named “Employee Free Choice Act” (aka: Card Check)?

... If you don’t, you should get acquainted with it real fast, because if you're a worker, you just might find yourself paying unwanted labor union dues if it passes (and if you're an employer, the reason to oppose this is obvious).

While a lot has been written about it, you might not really be sure what it is. The act passed the House in 2007, but will require 60 votes in the senate in order to overcome a Republican fililbuster.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Basically, the act states that if a union can collect signed cards from more than half of a company’s workers, the shop can be automatically unionized with no secret-ballot -- and no chance for employees to hear from their employer and learn about the pros and cons of the union before making a final decision (for example, employees might want to know about union corruption, that they would lose the right to negotiate pay raises and promotions based on merit, that they might be forced to strike, etc).

The proponents of the bill point out it doesn't not eliminate the option for a secret ballot -- and technically speaking, they are correct.

However, the truth is that there’s almost no way that procedure will ever be used if the easier card-collection mechanism is legalized. In essence, this act wouldn't just eliminate the secret ballot, it would actually eliminate the ballot. ... So yes, this effectively would eliminate the secret ballot by rendering it a moot point. Once the cards are collected, there is no need for an election -- businesses are mandated to begin negotiating only with the union representative.

Of course, there might be a potential balance here if the card-collection procedure were also available for de-unionization. The vast majority of Union members today never voted to join a union (it came with the job). And, of course, there is no easy way to opt out of unionization. So if Unions would allow the same rules to apply when workers want to opt-out of unionization (collect cards from more than half of the workers saying they no longer want to be in a union), this would be a consistent and palatable argument.

The real goal, of course, is not to be fair, but to unionize more workers. And, of course, the unions are ignoring people who bring up that idea -- because the vast majority of currently unionized workers never voted to enter a union, and the bosses are scared that they would get voted out.

So essentially they want to be able to harass you into signing a card to unionize yourself, then make it hard for you to get out of the deal when you figure out that you’ve been gamed. Yeah…that sounds like “Employee Free Choice” to me!

The Republicans are going to have to filibuster to stop this monstrosity from passing the Senate…meaning we need to hold at least 41 votes.

One Republican, Arlen Specter (PA), has already crossed to the dark side, and the unions claim they are going to put pressure on Olympia Snowe (ME) and George Voinovich (OH). We should definitely be contacting those three to encourage them to oppose this act.

But there are also a lot of Democrats from fairly conservative, right-to-work states whom we might be able to bring over as insurance.

The easiest will probably be Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, Tim Johnson from South Dakota, and Ben Nelson from Nebraska. These states are all Right to Work states, which means the state legislatures -- and the population -- would most likely oppose this act (if they are made aware of it, that is).

Some other targets may include Senators Udall (CO), Salazar (CO), Warner (VA), Webb (VA), Bayh (IN), and Bill Nelson (FL). Virginia and Florida are both Right to Work states, by the way.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the pro-union forces are to support Democratic political causes. While 30-40 percent of union members are Republicans, the vast majority of union money goes to Democrats. As such, many union members are contributing financially to causes they abhor.

It’s going to be one heck of a fight trying to shoot this thing down, and we had better get on it now.


Prez Bam targets right-to-work states

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Union membership is too important to allow workers to decide

Shenandoah Valley business leaders grilled state lawmakers on hot-button issues from Virginia's right-to-work laws to billions in budget cuts. They gathered Wednesday morning for the Augusta Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

Organizers say one of their top priorities is protecting Virginia's right-to-work status. They believe it could be threatened if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act.

"That could have a very negative impact on the business community," said Chamber of Commerce Director Ben Carter. "I think it's also a first step for the unions to try to eliminate the right to work that many states have."

Backers of the bill, which include President-elect Barack Obama, say it would protect workers, and keep employers from interfering in union elections. Industry and business representatives are also waiting for major state budget cuts, and 24th District Delegate Ben Cline warns that nothing is exempt.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

"Education and health care make up over half the budget," Cline said (R). "We can't get to $2.5 billion of cuts without looking at everything."

Chamber members ask Valley lawmakers to keep recruiting new industry and business to Virginia. They say tax incentives and marketing efforts do make a difference.

"It has a tremendous impact on the local scene because it not only trickles down to the regional area, but it also trickles down to individual counties, the individual cities," said Carter.


GM defends UAW

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Prez Bam will use force against capitalists

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
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Warning shot fired at job providers: Your workers will join unions, pay Dems

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Rham Emanuel tread lightly before a room full of CEOs when the subject turned to a union organizing bill that President-elect Barack Obama championed on the campaign trail.

Asked about the Employee Free Choice Act at a gathering of business executives Tuesday, Emanuel punted -- "Let me take your question and go somewhere else," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal, which sponsored the CEO Council.

Obama co-sponsored the legislation, also known as "card check," in the Senate, and he promised to make passage of it a top priority during his administration. Labor unions don't seem worried that he'll back away from that promise, even in light of Emanuel's hesitance.

"Rahm was certainly playing to his audience," Michael Whitney, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union, told RAW STORY. "He didn't want to jump head first into the viper pit."

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Emanuel "declined to say" whether the White House would support the legislation, according to a follow-up report in the Journal, and instead talked about the need to improve conditions for middle class workers.

Whenever Obama or Democrats are speaking to audiences comprised of non-CEOs, their support for the legislation couldn't be clearer. The issues page on Obama's transition Web site promises he will sign EFCA into law.

"Ultimately the pres is the deciding factor on this," Josh Goldstein, a spokesman for American Rights at Work, told RAW STORY. "And he is clearly not shying away from this issue."

The SEIU has created a video of Obama's statements in favor of unions and is confident that Obama will stick with his support.

"We need to show Congress and show the American people that passing Employee Free Choice is really part of an economic recovery program to help rebuild the middle class," Whitney said. "And we think Obama recognizes that as well."

The bill passed the House when it came to a vote last year but fell short of the necessary 60 votes to stave off a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Chances for EFCA have improved this time around and may hinge on the outcome in yet-to-be-decided Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia.

All Democrats and one Republican supported the measure in 2007, giving it 52 supporters. (Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) supported the bill but missed the vote because he was recovering from a stroke.)

Democrats have flipped at least six Senate seats, bringing their total to 58. Assuming Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) remains supportive of the measure, Democrats just need Al Franken to prevail in a Minnesota recount or Jim Martin to win next month's re-vote in Georgia and victory for the union organizing bill will be virtually assured.

"Those two senate races could basically lift any barrier," Goldstein said.

The card check legislation would require employers to negotiate a union contract if a majority of their workers sign cards indicating they want a union to form. Workers wishing to form a union are currently required to participate in secret-ballot elections, and there are no federal protections if a majority decide they want to unionize.

Businesses say card check allows union organizers to pressure workers into signing the cards, while labor groups say the current system allows corporations to retaliate against workers who try to organize unions.

During the campaign, pro-business groups ran advertisements against Democratic candidates aimed at raising voter fears about the card check bill. The advertisements appear to have been ineffective, but the fight to block card check will continue to be one of businesses' biggest priorities next year.

"President-elect Obama needs to think about how much political capital he wants to put behind this," Glenn Spencer, a Chamber of Commerce executive who is leading the fight to kill the measure, told the Los Angeles Times. If it is passed in Obama's first 100 days, Spencer said, it is "going to look like a special-interest payback."

Backers of card check recognize that it may not be the No. 1 item on the president-elect's agenda, but they expect it won't be completely pushed aside. Whether Obama is able to forge some kind of agreement between the two divergent views remains to be seen.

"The aspirations behind card check -- I know this is a tough issue," Emanuel told the CEOs, according to a partial transcript of his remarks. "And President Obama has been clear in the campaign. It's touching, and dealing with, those who have fell behind even though they are working harder. They're working harder, earning less and paying more. And that's just not good politics, good economics or good for our society. And you wouldn't come up with these principles if you didn't think that."


Gov't bailout for forced-labor unionism?

More worker-choice stories: hereunion-dues stories: here

Strikers show disrespect

More strike stories: here

Postal union out of touch with economic reality

The ironies are too much to ignore. Canada Post employees are on strike mainly because they believe that they need 15 annual accumulating paid sick days plus five annual family-related leave days. That is reported to be the "main sticking point" between the two sides.

The union that originally achieved this dubious entitlement in past negotiations, and the management team that agreed to it, were definitely out of touch with the business world.

An additional irony is the word "Respect" printed prominently on the picket signs. Respect is the absolute last thing this group is earning from the general population living in the real world, watching in disbelief. Such contract demands are unreasonable in today's economic conditions.

This organization, management and union, had better wake up quickly to economic reality. With the availability of scanning, e-mail, facsimile and other technologies, any reduction in service will destroy demand quicker than is happening with oil.

Twenty days of leave plus vacation is ridiculous and can't last in a competitive market. Trade it in now if you can, before it loses all trade value through sheer absurdity.

- E.M. Short, Kanata


The fix is in for organized labor

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Job-killing act termed "integral to fixing the economy" by AFL-CIO big

The government-affairs director of the AFL-CIO said he is certain that organized labor's top priority -- a law that would make it much easier for unions to organize businesses both large and small -- will pass Congress and be signed by President Barack Obama.

"I have no doubt it will pass and will be signed," William Samuel told reporters and editors of The Washington Times. He was referring to the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the right to join a union as soon as a majority of them signed cards requesting union representation.

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, Mr. Samuel also said that the more than $300 million spent by labor unions to educate workers was crucial to the Democrats' success in key battleground states, such as Ohio and Michigan.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

The AFL-CIO, which is a federation of 56 labor unions, will keep its electoral organization in place in many of the 21 states in which it operated in 2008 and use its 250,000 volunteers to serve as a grass-roots lobbying network to pressure Congress, Mr. Samuel said.

The AFL-CIO's agenda includes not just the Free Choice Act, also known as "card-check," but also a substantial economic-stimulus bill, health care reform, expanded family and medical leave and paid sick leave.

In addition, Thea Lee, policy director for the AFL-CIO, said the organization favors looking into implementing a "transaction tax" on all securities' transactions. The fee, she said, could finance an insurance fund that could, for example, be used for any future bailouts.

Mr. Samuel expressed concern about the nation's stagnating wages. He said the card-check legislation would help reverse the trend.

"Workers haven't recovered from the previous recession," he said. The card-check bill is "integral to fixing the economy," he added. "If we are going to have a consumer-led recovery, workers are going to have to earn more."

"Restoring the right to bargain is a key to fixing the economy," Mr. Samuel added. "We've spoken to" Mr. Obama, he said, "and we think he sees it the same way."

Currently, only 7.5 percent of the private-sector work force belongs to a union, roughly one-third of labor's proportion of 25 years ago. But Mr. Samuel cited polling data showing that 54 percent of nonunion workers said they would join a union if they could.

"That translates into 60 million" potential new members, Mr. Samuel said.

A reasonable goal if the card-check legislation becomes law, he added, would be to return union membership to the 35 percent portion of the labor force that prevailed during the 1950s.

Business organizations strongly oppose card-check legislation and have made clear in pos-telection forums that they would fight it vigorously. "This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship," National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler said the day after the election. "Destruction of the secret ballot is not a positive thing."

Under current law, whenever 30 percent of employees in a workplace sign union-authorization cards, employers have the right to demand a secret-ballot election. Under provisions of the unions' proposed legislation that right would be revoked.

Another early labor priority will be "a pretty substantial economic-recovery package," according to Ms. Lee. Mr. Samuel said such a package should cost "$300 billion or more," including a bailout of the Big Three automakers if that is not completed this year. Other priorities in the stimulus package would include an extension of unemployment benefits, increased food stamps and large public-infrastructure projects.

Mr. Samuel did not offer any suggestions for who should be the new secretary of labor, but when asked about former Rep. David E. Bonior, Michigan Democrat, Mr. Samuel said he "would be a great choice."

According to national exit polls, union members made up 12 percent of the electorate this year. These voters supported Mr. Obama over Republican presidential candidate John McCain by a 60 percent to 37 percent margin, exit polls showed.

Labor leaders have said the union vote was instrumental in the Obama victories in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and Nevada. President Bush won Ohio, Florida, Indiana and Nevada in both 2000 and 2004. The labor vote was also pivotal in many close Senate and House elections, elections experts say.

Mr. Samuel asserted that the Republican Party "has lost the confidence of the ordinary workers and union members."

Both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a rival labor federation, worked hard to elect Mr. Obama and to strengthen Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. The AFL-CIO spent $53.4 million and its affiliates spent an additional $200 million on education efforts. The Service Employees International Union, which is part of Change to Win, spent $60 million alone, according to labor spokesmen.

Democratic successes in Senate races will make it easier to pass a card-check bill. In 2007, the House easily passed the measure, but a Republican-led filibuster stopped it in the Senate.

In the interview, Mr. Samuel and Ms. Lee repeated labor's opposition to the free-trade agreements the Bush administration has negotiated with Colombia and South Korea.

Ms. Lee described the Bush administration's efforts to pass the Colombia deal during the current lame-duck session as "continued delusional thinking of President Bush."

- David M. Dickson

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