Jul 20, 2009
Democratic Party leaders in the U.S. Senate have officially dropped card-check from the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Under card check, after a majority of workers sign cards saying they want a union, employers are supposed to recognize it. This is supposed to make it a little easier for workers to win their unions, at least according to the law. Bosses and politicians who oppose card check say that it deprives the workers of a formal election and secret ballot, that is, it supposedly violates the democratic rights of the workers.
These claims drip with hypocrisy. In no way is the current system democratic. The law gives employers control over the information that workers get. The employers force workers to meet with supervisors who deliver anti-union messages. The boss threatens to close or greatly downsize the workplace if the workers do organize a union. And companies fire workers trying to organize a union with almost complete impunity.
Studies estimate that one out of every five workers who tries to organize a union is fired. Most never get reinstated, much less back pay. Nonetheless, in 2005, 31,000 workers were eligible for back pay due to employer misconduct. Between 1992 and 1997, that is, under the Clinton administration, more than 125,000 workers were fired illegally, according to the NLRB. Of course, even when workers successfully appeal to the NLRB and eventually win their jobs back – years later – the organizing campaign is long gone.
This system is such a complete travesty that the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, concluded: “Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against Freedom of Association, that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that having “card check” would ensure workers the right to have a union. No matter what the law says, what has always counted was what workers were ready to do, their willingness to fight to impose their unions on the bosses and the government. The same holds true today.
With or without card check, the workers can form their unions. But not if they wait on the Democrats to help them. Even when it comes to a relatively minor reform like this one, the Democratic Party leaders are not willing to step on the toes of big business.