The Employer No Choice Act

It looks like Christmas might come early this year for the AFL-CIO and all of the other labor unions in this country. In terms of holiday shopping, the Democrats went all out this year. They’re buying their friends in the labor union business… well, access to pretty much every company in the country! Thoughtful, at the very least, don’t you think? Hard to wrap, admittedly so.

The new legislation essentially gets rid of the secret ballot election that in the past, has always been held to determine the outcome of a unionization drive. But that isn’t really that bad, is it? I don’t know what all the fuss is about secret ballot elections anyway. Secret, schmecret. Let’s get rid of them altogether. Who needs them? A bunch of hooey, as far as I’m concerned.

The new legislation also solves an age-old problem between workers and employers. It lets the government come in and settle any disagreements over the contract in the union’s favor. Boy, that sure sounds like it’ll make things run smoother, doesn’t it?

I think this is going to be the best part. Employers are going to absolutely love the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) sending someone in to their companies for a little binding arbitration… absolutely outstanding. I’m sure that will be very good for a company’s culture. Hold a gun to the owners head, take all of the cash out of his wallet, and what… head on over to the company’s annual picnic? Well if you say so, but I’m not going to be having any of the Kool Aid being served, if it’s all the same to you.

Okay, so it’s actually called the Employee Free Choice Act, I know… I know, but my pet name for it seems more appropriate than the other. This legislation would leave employers with absolutely no choice in several areas. And I think it’s unquestionable that its passage into law will do irreparable harm to the corporate cultures at hundreds or even thousands of U.S. companies by forcing unionization instead of negotiating it.

Now, I’ll just go ahead an admit something. I’m not totally an anti-union guy in real life. I’m not necessarily pro-union either. I think sometimes unions are good and other times, less so. I grew up in a union town, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I’m not someone who thinks we should get rid of them all… or keep them all. I understand the role of labor unions in this country, and it would seem that organizations like the UAW are doing fine, making concessions, working together with management to turn GM around.

I also think unions like the teachers union are probably necessary. Or the pilot’s union. Maybe even the Teamsters, or coal miners. In my mind, I think unions are needed when there are a small number of employers for which to work in a given industry, because in those instances, if no union existed, it would be impossible for an individual to negotiate for better pay, or improved benefits. If GM, for example, didn’t have to negotiate with the UAW, how would one guy or gal ever be able to get a raise of out GM? Management could just say no, and that would be that. Sure, that person could quit and work for Ford or maybe Chrysler, but after that they’d be stuck accepting whatever the giant corporations offered.

At the end of the day, I think it’s pretty clear that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, um… er… a lot more. So, if we leave it to corporations, they’ll have 11 year-olds working the graveyard shift at the plant without health insurance. And if we leave it to the unions, we’ll have assembly line workers making more than corporate vice presidents and we’ll be importing Vermont Maple Syrup from Taiwan. Fair enough.

But… I honestly don’t know how anyone can be for this legislation. It sits squarely on the Republicans to prevent it… it’s their sweet spot… one of their best issues. The Democrats are almost universally for it. Except for a one or two, including Sen. Diane Feinstein, of all people. Rachel Maddow thinks it’s fabulous. President Obama has already said he’ll sign it… he also said that it will pass, which is a little scary in and of itself. The unions did a lot to get Obama elected, or at least they think they did… I really have no idea. This looks to me like the most flagrant payback to the unions I’ve ever seen.

The thing is… and you’re going to have to help me here… I can’t figure out why anyone would be for it, except the union leaders themselves, it should go without saying. I cannot figure it out. I’m going to make my analysis of this issue simple and only discuss the two key points…

Here’s what this new piece of legislation appears to do:

No more secret ballot elections.

Isn’t that interesting? No more secret ballot elections. Why? What were the secret ballot elections doing that someone wouldn’t want them around anymore? Was one side or the other getting screwed by the secret ballot elections? I’m going to have to have some specifics on this. I don’t see how anything can be more fair than secret ballot elections.

NOW: Right now, it works like this: The union passes out cards for people to sign. Union guys stand around and goad people into signing, and if a third do, the union gets an election… and yes… it’s a secret ballot election, as opposed to one of those “everybody-knows-who-you-voted-for” type of elections, I suppose. Then, if the union side wins the election, the employer is compelled to come to the table to negotiate a contract for the workers… in good faith. If a contract is successfully negotiated, great. If not, other choices need to be made by all. Okie, dokie?

THEN: The new legislation would fundamentally change everything about this process. Unions, under this bill, would hand out cards and if 51% sign them, the union is in. Zip bang. No election at all. Apparently it was that damn election that was gumming up the works?

Then, just like before, both sides come to the table to negotiate in good faith again. But, under the new law, if an employer and the union cannot reach an agreement, which today happens roughly half the time, the government sends in someone from the National Labor Relations Board, and that person settles it for the union. Presto… the union is in and has a contract. The employer gets steak knives.

Will it Pass the Senate?

The Employee Free Choice Act looks like it will have no trouble passing the House. The Democrats have a big enough majority in the House of Representatives to pass a whole new Bill of Rights, if they get a mind to. The Senate is where the fun begins. If the Senate were to vote on this bill today, it wouldn’t pass, but likely only by a small handful of votes. In other words, it’s closer than Sean Hannity was to the Bush administration.

But that doesn’t mean the overweight woman has sung. It’s still possible that this bill, in some form, could pass this year. Look for the rushed sneak attack in the fall. And even if it doesn’t pass this year, next year would be okay with the unions, too. Be careful, because if the unions are struck down in this year’s battle, like Obi Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie, it may make them even more powerful next year.

First of all, waiting for Minnesota to finish counting their ballots from last November drove me crazy. At the end, I would have been fine with rock, paper, scissors deciding the race.  You laugh, but I think there’d be less animosity over that result than the protracted courtroom battle that went on and on and on.

Since Al Franken has won, that adds a “yes” vote to the Senate vote over the bill. Arlen Spector is, well… Arlen Spector.  And Sen. Feinstein hasn’t exactly said she won’t vote for it. According to her statement, she’s not totally sold, so who knows what kind of back room negotiations could be going on in that regard. I’m sure of one thing… there’s plenty of money and pressure from both sides on this one.

Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would mean big bucks to the unions, who today only receive dues from 12.4% of the workforce. Big bucks. Like tens of millions of dollars, maybe hundreds of millions.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics:
In 2008, union members accounted for 12.4 percent of employed wage and salary workers, up from 12.1 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of workers belonging to a union rose by 428,000 to 16.1 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

So, as would be expected, the unions are pulling out all the stops campaigning for the proposed bill. Television commercials depicting all sorts of horrors have been airing for months in some states. In response, Republicans and pro-business groups are basically saying the sky is falling. It’s a battle between twp opposing ideologies that, like parallel lines, will never intersect, and it’s certain to be as polarizing as any issue that divides our nation.

Why are people, and by people I mean pretty much all of the Democrats, for this legislation? What’s wrong with a secret ballot? Aren’t secret ballots how we elect our president? Isn’t your vote supposed to be your business?

Why can’t employers and unions negotiate in good faith as they always have? It may not be a perfect system, but at least it doesn’t force something designed by a third party on the company. And if the union knows that ultimately the NLRB will come in and settle the negotiations, doesn’t that give the union an incentive to ask for the moon… knowing that the compromise will likely yield a better outcome as a result of starting higher rather than lower?

Can’t you just see employers after the NLRB imposes a union contract after the two sides failed to agree at the bargaining table… “Fine. You wanted a union, you got one. Be here by 8:00 am for work… thrity seconds late and I’m writing you up.”

This bill seems like a real firestorm of a problem in so many ways. Who’s idea was this? Who’s for it, besides the unions, of course? And why?

This can’t possibly pass the senate, right?  And when push comes to shove, what will Obama do?

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