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What are "card checks," and why is the NLRB questioning their legality?

ASK THIS | July 01, 2004

There's not much reporting on labor unions these days, so NiemanWatchdog.org asked Donovan McClure, a union advocate, to pose questions he feels the press should be asking. Here he deals with the subject of "card check."

By Donovan McClure

Q. Why is the National Labor Relations Board questioning the legality of "card-check," one of labor’s main tools in allowing workers to form unions without employer interference?

Q. And shouldn't reporters be asking candidates for election on all levels what their position is on this issue, and why?

The three people appointed by George W. Bush make up a majority of the National Labor Relations Board, and the steady decline of labor union membership apparently hasn’t been swift enough to satisfy them. The NLRB is questioning the legality of "card-check" procedures that have enabled unions to get most of the new members they’ve recruited in recent years.

Long before the NLRB process came about in 1935, unions were using card check to organize workers. NLRB elections worked well until the 1970s, when many employers began using tactics to coerce and intimidate workers. Unions now get most of their members through card checks.

Card-check recognition enables workers to fairly and rapidly indicate whether they want a union. Under current law, employers can recognize a union if a majority of their employees sign authorization cards.

Without card check, unions face delaying tactics in NLRB elections that give management time to identify, harass, and fire union supporters. I’m not making this up – Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research at Cornell University, offers these statistics:

  • 25% of employers fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns.
  • 75% of employers hire union-busting "consultants" to help defeat organizing drives.
  • 92% of employers compel their workforce to attend mandatory "captive audience" meetings to hear and view anti-union propaganda.
  • 52% of employers threaten to all INS to intimidate undocumented workers.
  • 51% of employers threaten to close their plants and relocate elsewhere if the union wins the election.

Reporters should ask the NLRB if it is reacting to the Kennedy-Miller bill introduced in Congress last fall that will allow employees to choose freely whether to form unions when a majority signs authorization cards.

This attempt to undermine "card check" is part of an ongoing war the Bush administration has waged against labor unions from the day they took office. Someone should ask Labor Secretary Elaine Chao if she has ever read the mission statement for her agency. Depriving 8 million workers of overtime pay and slashing workplace safety funds is hardly what lawmakers had in mind when they created a department "to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners of the United States."

Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University 607/255-7581
Denise Mitchell, AFL-CIO 202/637-5340
Lew Maltby, Workrights Institute 609/683-0313

A main labor movement Web site

Labor Notes
A monthly magazine and reports on labor worldwide, from a union perspective

The Web site of the American labor movement's umbrella organization

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