“Count all the votes!” Democrats screamed during the 2000 Florida recount fiasco. “Don’t count the votes!” Democrats now yell when workers decide whether to unionize.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee heard testimony Tuesday on the sarcastically titled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Adopted March 1 by the House, 241-185, it would let unions capture workplaces without having to win secret-ballot elections. Instead, worksites could go union once representatives collect non-secret authorization cards from a majority of workers. Why spurn federally supervised labor elections? As United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen admits: “We can’t win that way anymore.”
Beyond vote suppression, other union card-check tactics seem stolen from a Martin Scorsese picture.
“I left this line of work because I became revolted by the ugly methods that we were encouraged to use to pressure employees into union ranks,” former United Steelworkers organizer Richard Torres wrote in a February 8 account to the House Education and Labor Committee. “I ultimately quit,” Torres continued, when a senior unionist “asked me to threaten migrant workers by telling them they would be reported to federal immigration officials if they refused to sign check-off cards.”
The union, Torres added, encouraged supportive employees to “go as far as bringing us the garbage from the offices so that union organizers could sift through it to find any dirt on someone in management or the company that [later] could be used to discredit them…”
In Philadelphia last August, federal Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled that the UNITE textile union “violated Drivers Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) by recording license plate numbers in employee parking lot and using them to obtain employees’ addresses from motor vehicle records.” Dalzell determined that UNITE agents employed Westlaw’s legal database to link license plates to home addresses. UNITE used “private investigators or information brokers,” Dalzell indicated. Also, “Some organizers followed workers home to get addresses.”
“Some employees have had five or more harassing visits from these [United Auto Worker] organizers,” Mike Ivey, a Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation materials handler, explained. “The only way, it seems, to stop the badgering and pressure is to sign the card…We employees feel that the UAW is holding our heads under water until we drown.”
After sick leave, “I found that when I returned to work, the [hotel employees] union representatives knew all about my hospitalization and my illness,” Faith Jetter of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Hotel recalled in a November 2003 federal court affidavit. “I found this to be an invasion of my personal privacy.”
Edith White, a New Jersey college food-service staffer, remembered that a Service Workers United organizer named Scott visited her home in August 2005. According to White’s National Labor Relations Board affidavit, Scott told her “I wouldn’t have a job in Sept. if I didn’t sign the card and that the Union would make sure that I was fired. At the end of the conversation, I told him to leave or I would call the police.”
In a 1996 decision, the NLRB held that a Service Employees International Union “card solicitor allegedly stated that the employee had better sign a card because if she did not, the Union would come and get her children and it would also slash her car tires.”
“In 2004, approximately 83 percent of newly organized workers were herded into unions without secret ballots,” says the National Right to Work Foundation’s Stefan Gleason. “Card-checks offer workers two basic choices: ‘Union, yes’ and ‘Union, yes.’”
This union thuggery unfolds behind a curtain of hypocrisy.
“We are writing to encourage you to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections,” 16 House Democrats pleaded in an August 2001 letter to Mexican officials. They added, “The secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union that they might not otherwise choose.” Of this letter’s 11 signers still in Congress, including EFCA sponsor George Miller (D – California), all voted to deny American workers secret ballots.
As the Senate considers this anti-democratic legislation, Democrats will fight for union bosses like UNITE’s Bruce Raynor. He perfectly expresses Big Labor’s position on jobsite democracy: “There’s no reason to subject the workers to an election.”