Time is Ripe for Card Check Bill

Labor Matters

Volume CVII, No. 1January, 2007

Joel LeFevre

Click here for online only .pdf version with more accompanying color charts.

The top legislative priority of the AFL-CIO is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, also called the card check bill. The legislation would streamline the process for workers to form or join unions. A majority of workers could form a union simply by signing cards.

Click to view chart.

The card check system is already the law in New York State for small businesses. But all over the country, most workers have to petition the NLRB to hold an election in order to form a union. This process is flawed because it’s slow: employers have ample time to intimidate workers. Employers can also delay and challenge elections. Unionization of the private sector has dropped below 9 percent.

Things are so bad that Human Rights Watch – for the last six years in a row – has found that the United States supports human rights abuse through the inadequate protections and non-enforcement of laws meant to protect the freedom to organize.

At a September Capitol Hill press conference held with the Democratic Leadership Committee, AFL-CIO President John Sweeny said:

“Our current laws are a nightmare that not only allow – but encourage – lengthy and confrontational campaigns aimed at snuffing out workers’ choice. Fewer than 70,000 workers were able to form unions last year under current law – even though more than half of all workers say they would join a union today if they could. 

“The stakes are clear when you remember that all of the things we think of as hallmarks of the American middle class – home ownership, health insurance, paid vacations, guaranteed pensions, the eight-hour day and the 40-hour week – all of these first became possible for union workers as a result of collective bargaining, then spread more widely to other workers as nonunion employers sought to compete.”

Sweeny’s remarks were echoed by the Democratic Leadership Committee Chair and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. The occasion marks the first time that the Democratic Leadership Committee and the AFL-CIO have worked together to pass major legislation.

More unions means a stronger middle class and a better nation – that’s why the DLC supports this fundamental change in the rules for organizing unions.

In the Republican dominated Congress, the card check bill was reintroduced with 216 co-sponsors in the House (where 219 is a majority) and 41 in the Senate (where 51 is a majority). In the new Democratic Congress the chances for passage are greatly improved.

Nearly 1,500 volunteers worked to elect 802 member John Hall to Congress. Hall, who will represent the lower Hudson Valley, will co-sponsor the card check bill. This is a major turnaround for Hall’s district: defeated Republican Sue Kelly had worked on a bill to make card check illegal, end voluntary political contributions by union members and make the personal information about union organizers public.

Until this year you would not hear the card check bill as part of most politicians’ agenda – it’s too far “off center” for public discourse. That is now changing. When we get a president who will sign the legislation, the groundwork for protecting the middle class and organizing will be laid.

Bush and his ilk have pushed the power of wealth and privilege as the purpose of government. Now the push back, to make government serve and protect all Americans, begins in earnest.

More information about the card check bill is available at

Portions of this article were drawn from the AFL-CIO Voice at Work.

See the online version of this article for accompanying color charts.


The labor movement is the most successful antipoverty program ever invented. And the facts support a conclusion that for over 70 years the most improvements to the greatest number of families in this nation have come from the ability of immigrants and citizens alike to join unions and harvest the fruits of collective bargaining, then secure those gains through political action and passing legislation.

According to the Department of Labor, working union means earning 33 percent more for women, 35 percent more for African Americans and 55 percent more for Latinos. Overall, union workers earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers.

Working union means having a 77 percent advantage in health care and 50 percent advantage in pensions.

The U.S. has the lowest unionization rate of all the industrialized nations. When there is a high unionization rate, corporations pay more taxes.

In 1955, 35 percent of American workers were in unions and corporations paid 40 percent of the federal budget. Today corporations pay less than 5 percent of the taxes and unions represent less than 13 percent of the workforce.

A comparison of the 10 states with the highest rates of unionization and the 10 with the lowest shows the following:

  • Poverty rates are 28.3 percent lower in the higher unionized states.
  • The rates of single family home ownership are 26.8 percent higher in the strong union states.
  • Average household income is 19.4 percent higher in the strong union states.
  • Infant mortality rates are 25.6 percent higher in weak union states.
  • The death rate is nearly 10 percent higher in weak union states.
  • The rate of occupational fatalities (death while at work) is 22 percent higher in weak union states.
  • Rates of having no insurance are 27.9 percent higher in weak union states.
  • Per pupil spending in strong union states is 43.1 percent higher.
  • The number of fourth graders reading at or above grade level is 16 percent higher – and in eighth grade 24 percent higher – in the strong union states.
  • I.Q. scores on average are 11.9 percent higher in strong union state.
  • Unemployment benefits are 28 percent higher in strong union states and worker comp benefits are almost 39 percent better.
  • The Center for Disease Control uses a set of measurers including those above to come up with a public health score for each of the 50 states and the nation as a whole. The strong union states score an average of 22.5 and the ten weakest 12.3 – an incredible 83 percent difference. Working union really does mean living a better life.
  • More people go to the polls and vote in the strong union states!