Special Report - Out of Touch with America: Are Unions Obsolete?

Chapter III:

Right to work vs. card check: Unions face challenges


Policy: Labor

Despite repeated failures, Card Check still top Big Labor priority

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Politics,Opinion,Congress,Sean Higgins,Labor,NLRB,Card Check,Labor Series,Are Unions Obsolete,Meeting the challenge

Part of the Washington Examiner's weeklong commentary series on labor unions. To see the entire series, click here.

Gary Casteel of the United Auto Workers had been working for years to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Last September, he proudly declared that UAW had already won.

“We've determined we definitely have a majority of employees who favor this representation,” he told the Tennessean newspaper.

Out of Touch With America: Are Unions Obsolete?

A five-chapter special report by the Washington Examiner.

Chapter 1: Big Labor’s identity crisis
» Big Labor's identity crisis
» The decline of the labor union
» Diana Furchtgott-Roth: Public employees unions help boost state debt crisis
Chapter 2: Unions and the Democratic Party
» Democrats know better than to bite the Big Labor hand that feeds them
» Steven Malanga: When unions use non-member dues to finance political activities
Chapter 3: Right to work vs. Card Check: Unions face challenges
» Despite repeated failures, Card Check still top Big Labor priority
» Right-to- work surge is reviving America's Rust Belt
» Unions in right-to-work states make opting out nearly impossible
» Q&A: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker
» Q&A: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Chapter 4: Forced unionism: The SEIU and Illinois home health care workers
» Illinois politicians forced home care workers into union that donates heavily to them
» Forced unionization turned Illinois homemaker into Supreme Court plaintiff in Harris v. Quinn case
Chapter 5: Employee Rights Act defines efforts to reinvent the union
» Big Labor turns left even as workers, lawmakers form new union models for the future
» James Sherk: Want to help workers? Reinvent the union
» Richard Berman: Employee Rights Act would make unions accountable to members
» Q&A: Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch
» Q&A: Georgia Rep. Tom Price

He was referring to signed cards from the workers allegedly supporting the UAW. The union wanted VW officials to accept a union simply based on the signed cards.

But the German car company resisted and called for a federally monitored secret ballot election instead. The vote was expected to have merely reaffirmed workers' support for the union.

But it didn't turn out that way. On Feb. 14, 2014, plant employees rejected the UAW, 712-626, with 89 percent of the 1,550 eligible voters turning out.

The defeat was not just an embarrassment for the UAW. It was an indictment of the Card Check union election process Casteel and the UAW almost persuaded VW to accept.

Big Labor has been trying for years to get federal labor law amended to make Card Check the standard for union elections. The unions think Card Check will boost their sagging membership numbers because the signed cards would replace secret ballot elections by employees.

The Chattanooga case shows there is ample reason to believe that the process is inaccurate at best and open to fraud and coercion at worst.

Most union elections begin with organizers getting workers to sign cards saying they want collective bargaining.

Once it has cards for a majority of workers, the union presents them to the employer, who can either recognize the union or call for the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election.

Big Labor and its allies want the National Labor Relations Act amended to strip management of its ability to call for the secret ballot vote.

They cloak this aim with rhetoric about workers' rights, ignoring that the purpose of the secret ballot vote is to determine if workers really want collective bargaining.

"[T]he process itself stacks the deck against union supporters. The employer has all the power,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., when he introduced a Card Check bill in 2007.

The basic problem with Card Check is it’s never clear employees know what they are signing or that they aren’t pressured to sign. In some cases, unions simply forge signatures.

Eight workers at the Chattanooga plant complained to the NLRB last year that UAW was using deceptive tactics to get people to sign cards.

The NLRB dismissed the complaint in January even though its own probe found "evidence … that a few of the individuals soliciting cards may have misrepresented the purpose of the cards and/or distributed ambiguous authorization cards.”

VW employee Carol Wilson told Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV last year that she was among those who were duped:

“When I was approached to sign a card a year and a half ago, it was, ‘Oh, the card just means you want more information.’ ... Yes, I signed a card. But yes, I got it revoked when I found out it was counted as a vote.”

Even the UAW’s Casteel conceded to the Tennessean that the workers who signed cards were not firm in their support.

“We know if we go for a traditional election where the outside organizations could campaign against us, we’d probably lose,” he said.

Allegations of fraudulent practices have been made in Card Check drives over the past decade in Illinois, Michigan, California, Oregon, West Virginia and other states.

In the Illinois case involving home health care workers, one caregiver recounted to the Washington Examiner how organizers tried to get her to sign a card by saying they just wanted something to show their boss that they had talked to her. It sounded fishy, so she refused. She later learned the card was for an election.

Last year, two Teamsters whistleblowers alleged in a federal complaint that their union had used forged cards in an attempt to raid members from the Transportation Workers Union. The case was settled when the Teamsters withdrew its organizing bid.

Although Card Check is usually portrayed as a way to help employees exercise their rights in the face of management’s opposition, the truth is often the reverse.

Card Check typically involves union leaders colluding with management to snare uninterested workers. The unions make early concessions -- called "neutrality agreements" -- to get management's help in organizing.

Chapman Medical Center in Orange, Calif., entered into such an agreement with the Service Employees International Union in 2011.

In congressional testimony, employee Marlene Felter noted that the workers were never shown the agreement's terms, which let SEIU get their private contact information.

“My co-workers reported that SEIU operatives were calling them on their cellphones, coming to their homes, stalking them, harassing them, and even offering to buy them meals at restaurants to convince them to sign union cards,” Felter testified.

Chapman later gave SEIU an exclusive representation contract based on Card Check. After the NLRB began to investigate fraud complaints, SEIU refused to comply with a subpoena to turn over the Card Check votes. They settled the case in 2012 by voiding the election.

Card Check did come close to becoming the law. President Obama endorsed it early in 2008 and Democratic congressional leaders pushed hard for it in 2009.

The drive fell short, thanks to Republican opposition and defections from moderate Democrats. Card Check still tops union wish lists.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have introduced legislation called the Employee Rights Act to prohibit Card Check elections, among other reforms.

It remains stalled in the Senate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unlikely to allow a vote on it as long as he controls the chamber.

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