In Allentown, Not So Crazy About Card Checks
Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved
So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
And we’re waiting here in Allentown
But they’ve taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away.
So goes a portion of Billy Joel’s ’80s hit “Allentown“, a working man’s song about how life was changing in a union town. With the news that the House of Representatives has passed the “Employee Free Choice Act“, which really seeks to strip away the right of workers to vote up or down on unionization via secret ballot and requires a so-called “card check,” Joel’s song came to mind. For the heck of it, I thought that, instead of me rehashing (and here and here) why this was so wrong, it might be worth finding out what the local newspaper of a union town–like Allentown–had to say. The Morning Call of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley is the Allentown hometown newspaper. After editorializing that “[i]t was a cynical and misleading vote, one that was more about politics than it was about helping workers,” the paper explains:
Union leaders say employer intimidation contributes to this decline. They cite statistics that workers who try to organize fellow employees stand a one-in-five chance of losing their jobs. They complain about employers hiring consultants who specialize in pressuring workers into not supporting unions. It happens.
However, the solution this legislation proposes would replace one form of coercion with another. In doing so, it does away with one of democracy’s most hallowed tools to preserve freedom of choice — the secret ballot. In its place, it would allow unions to organize workplace simply by getting a majority of employees to sign authorization cards — the so-called card check. In place of a boss leaning on a worker not to vote for the union, it puts face-to-face peer pressure from a labor organizer to unionize. Pressure can work both ways, and without the protection of privacy, workers could subject themselves to harassment, or worse, from just another source. It happens.
This isn’t the way to make the workplace fair. The National Labor Relations Act already makes it illegal for employers to bully their workers into not supporting unions. There are legitimate questions about whether the act’s enforcement provisions are adequate to protect workers’ rights. In fact, the Employee Free Choice Act would give the National Labor Relations Board more power to penalize employers when they fire workers for trying to organize — something that gets to the heart of labor’s concern. Paired with a secret ballot, it would allow workers to vote according to who they think made the better case — labor or management.
The union bosses and their Democratic friends have sought to use legitimate concerns about the shortcomings of the NLRB as an opportunity to strengthen their control over the rank and file–both current and prospective. As the Call’s editorial staff wrote, this was indeed “cynical and misleading.” And entirely unsurprising.