This is the debut of the Organizing Department’s column, “Organizing Matters.” To reach the department, call Organizing Director Joe Eisman at (212) 245-4802, ext. 191.
Politics matter. Every American of voting age should be keenly aware of the direct role that politics play in shaping every aspect of public policy. Government officials make decisions that control our lives, and the interests that influence those in power are not always ours.
The labor movement is particularly vulnerable because the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency with jurisdiction over most private sector labor issues, is made up of political appointees.
Not one of these five board members is elected by popular vote, and there are no real qualifications necessary to serve. With a few broad strokes of their partisan pens, this body has the power to reshape labor policy that the rest of us will live with for years to come.
The presidential election is crucial for labor because the current administration has waged war on working people.
From the gutting of the Fair Labor Standards Act to the reversal of key NLRB decisions, from the bleeding of jobs and the health care crisis, to the withering of the economy, this has not been a pleasant four years for those of us who work for a living.
TARGET: CARD CHECK
Central to the Republican attack on the labor movement is an effort to outlaw card check as a method of union recognition. This process allows collective bargaining rights for workers who demonstrate a clear majority of interest in representation by signing union authorization cards.
President Bush’s National Labor Relations Board has announced that it will revisit the card check issue, with the clear implication that it will eliminate this option at the earliest possible juncture.
In May, Georgia Republican Rep. Charlie Norwood introduced a bill that has been dubbed the Secret Ballot Protection Act of 2004.
If Norwood prevails, his bill will amend the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit card check recognition. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced a Senate version of the bill in July.
Because the NLRB process encourages substantial delays and allows severe employer opposition, it is not surprising that just over 50 percent of the petitions for NLRB elections result in union recognition.
Worse, only about half of those victories ever result in a first contract, and, in turn, only about half of those bargaining units that achieve first contracts end up with a second contract.
In other words, almost seven out of every eight groups of workers who petition the NLRB for a representation election never achieve a second union contract.
Hence, employers have learned that they can use the NLRB process to ultimately defeat unions in the vast majority of campaigns.
One alternative over the past 70 years to this flawed NLRB election process has been card check recognition. It streamlines the traditional burdensome and time-consuming process of NLRB elections, and has proven to be a more effective method of winning union recognition.
Thus, it is no surprise that the Bush Labor Board supports limiting the union recognition process to NLRB elections.
CARD CHECK DIFFERENCE
Anyone who has ever lived through the brutality of an employer’s anti-union campaign knows that there is nothing democratic or fair about the process of voting for union representation. The sanctions that employers face for breaking the law are utterly toothless, the rewards of thwarting a union drive enormous.
For most employers, the temptation to misbehave is just too great.
Consequently, the unions that are successfully organizing today are doing so without the “assistance” of the NLRB election process.
In 2002, one of the most successful years in recent memory for union organizing, 400,000 out of the 500,000 workers who organized did so through some type of card check agreement.
Card check recognition is by no means a miracle cure for what ails our labor laws. It simply speeds up the recognition process.
Workers almost always must fight to form a union, but the simple truth is that card check recognition means that employees spend less time listening to antiunion rhetoric, face fewer illegal threats, and tackle innumerably fewer hurdles in the union representation process.
For employers, there’s the benefit of less money wasted fighting their employees, as well as the clearer conscience that comes from acting with a level of ethics and integrity that is more aligned with business conduct in the rest of the developed world.
Many Allegro readers will recall that the Kaufman Center, a nonprofit community arts school, spent over $1 million fighting Local 802’s efforts to help Kaufman teachers unionize. That was money that could have gone toward benefits for the teachers (who had no health or pension benefits before unionizing), or scholarships for disadvantaged students. Instead, it went into the pockets of the Wall Street lawyers hired by the center.
THE DEMOCRATIC RESPONSE
To combat the Republican assault on card check recognition, Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) have each proposed legislation that would formalize and protect the card check recognition process.
Representative George Miller (D-CA) has drafted the House companions for each of these bills, known respectively as the Employee Right to Choose Act and the Employee Free Choice Act.
As Local 802 members, we have a responsibility to fight for this legislation that could affect the fate of millions of potential union members.
Recent polls suggest that over 40 million American workers say they would join a union if they had the chance. We owe it to these millions of under-paid and uninsured workers to give them that fighting chance to win union recognition.
Closer to home, we owe it to the thousands of musicians and teaching artists who work without union representation.
And because continual organizing is central to Local 802’s survival and revival, we owe it to ourselves to preserve and expand the process of card check for union recognition.
Underneath it all, however, union campaigns are never really about union victories. They are victories for democracy for working people.
And speaking of democracy, let’s all be certain to vote on Nov. 2. Why? Because politics do matter.