While we’ve seen unprecedented attention on workers’ struggles in Wisconsin, Ohio and other state capitols, the GOP is pushing a bill through Congress that would make organizing transportation workers all-but-impossible. It was sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) who, as you might expect, is “a major recipient of campaign contributions from the airline industry, totaling more than $620,000 in his career,” according to Sam Stein and Laura Bassett reporting for the Huffpo.
The controversial provision states if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she will be tallied as an active vote against representation.
Such a policy, which puts an extra burden on union organizers to round up all voters, rather than a simple majority, existed up until last July, when the federal National Mediation Board, which adjudicates labor-management disputes, ruled that absent votes ought not be counted against unionization. Labor officials hailed that decision as one of their signature victories last year, and the proposal to strip it away has sparked an equally emotional reaction.
“This was the one advancement that you had seen in organizing rights and here they have launched an all-out effort in the House to go after unions again,” said Shane Larson, the legislative director for the Communications Workers of America. “Currently, this is the biggest issue federally right now in terms of organizing rights. There is nothing else that is on the table.”
Just to highlight how undemocratic this is, consider that 41.6 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in last November’s midterms, and imagine a law that tallied all of those who didn’t go to the polls as votes for the GOP.
This is one of those things that’s bad in isolation, but utterly ridiculous when you consider some context.
First, it’s being pushed by the same union-busting conservatives who have waged a highly effective campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act based on the Big Lie that the “card-check” provision — which would make it much easier to organize — is undemocratic. As I wrote back in 2008:
[Union-busters seized] on a compelling talking point tailored to America’s political culture: that the “card-check” provision of the EFCA does away with the secret ballots that Americans have come to expect when casting their votes.
… the strategy is to depict management’s assault on the ability to organize as protecting “workers’ rights.” Seven out of 10 respondents said they’d be less likely to vote for a member of Congress “who voted in favor of taking away a worker’s right to have a federally supervised secret ballot election to decide whether to organize a union.”
Armed with their push-poll, the Right’s noise machine has been typically disciplined; all corners of the conservative movement are on message: Big Labor wants to do away with secret ballots, and it’s pulling the Democrats’ strings to make it happen.
But as Stalin said, “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” More importantly, it’s how the votes are counted and whether voters are being coerced. The secret-ballot election process is almost impossible in today’s anti-union environment, with a National Labor Relations Board — the body that’s supposed to protect workers’ rights — hopelessly stacked with anti-union appointees.
As journalist Jordan Barab noted, as a result of an elections process that disenfranchises millions of working people, “card-check campaigns — instead of secret ballot elections — have become labor’s main tool for organizing the unorganized.” According to AFL-CIO statistics cited by Barab, card checks were used to “sign up roughly 70 percent of the private-sector workers who joined unions (in 2006), compared with less than 5 percent two decades ago.”
So, they’re awfully concerned with the democratic process as long as it doesn’t lead to democratic workplaces.
The second bit of context relates to corporate governance. This proposal would impose on transportation unions the same undemocratic system that currently obtains with shareholders’ votes. If you own a few shares of stock in, say, AT & T, they’ll send you a proxy ballot to return by mail. Many small investors don’t bother sending those ballots back to the company, and their votes are automatically counted as siding with management.
So we have corporations holding shareholder “votes” that are rigged to come out on management’s side every time, and now they’re pushing a law that would rig transportation workers’ union elections to come out on management’s side every time and they’re screaming bloody murder about how card-check infringes on our sacred right to have a secret ballot.
In my book, I cite a poll conducted in 2005 which found that 53 percent of all American wage-earners would like to belong to a labor union. The union density that year was around 12 percent. That’s a result of systemic union-busting.
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