Posted on Jan 29, 2009
John M Grau
Congress is busy with the stimulus package right now, but the legislators may soon turn their attention to organized labor’s top priority — the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Some refer to it as the “card check” bill. It’s legislation designed to make it easier for unions to organize non-union employers.
Since most NECA members are already organized, and since we encourage the IBEW to organize non-union employers, you would think I would be in favor of this Act. I’m not.
The core reason for my opposition is the key component of the legislation which would eliminate secret-ballot elections for employees deciding whether they want to join a union. Instead of secret elections, unions would instead collect cards signed by the employees requesting union representation. If a majority of a company’s employees sign these cards, then the employer must bargain a labor agreement with the union.
What’s the difference? Eliminating secret ballots opens the process to the potential use of intimidation and corruption. Our government, and the AFL-CIO, demand that governments and labor organizations around the world use secret-ballot elections. It’s the essence of democracy and freedom. How, then, could we deny that same right to our own citizens when it comes to decisions regarding union membership?
The real issue for unions under the current process is that, too many times after they win an organizing election, the employer stonewalls them and never legitimately bargains a labor agreement. The EFCA addresses this problem with an expedited bargaining timetable and the requirement for arbitration if a settlement can’t be reached. Those provisions are a more reasonable approach— and ones that I am more likely to support.
However, there is a caveat about arbitration that concerns me and that I’ve asked union leaders promoting the legislation to consider. In a multi-employer setting like we operate in, what is the impact when an arbitrator’s decision is at odds with the prevailing NECA-IBEW labor agreement? If the arbitrator grants a lower wage rate, it might be to NECA’s advantage to invoke the “favored nation’s clause” in our agreements. But what if the arbitrator imposes a different apprentice program? What if the arbitrator says the employer will pay into NECA-IBEW benefit plans at a different contribution rate?
I’m sure the framers of the legislation are focused on single-employer settings, but mutli-employer differences need to be addressed.
My guess is the when the EFCA is ready for a vote in Congress, it will include a compromise that retains secret-ballot elections. Until that happens, I can’t support the legislation.