Public Support for Card Check Bill Overestimated

The Employee Free Choice Act would make it easier for unions to organize workers, in part by allowing unions to substitute cards signed by workers for secret ballots. Conservatives and many business groups have opposed the bill because of the likelihood of abuse, and supporters are now pointing to a new Gallup poll that seems to indicate widespread public support for EFCA.

The poll, released yesterday, reported that 53 % of Americans favor the legislation. Thirty-nine percent oppose it and eight percent have no opinion on it. Even more troubling is the fact most people are not exactly sure what it would mean if it does pass.

The March 14-15 survey’s results show that “only 12 % of U.S. adults say they are following news about the union-organizing bill ‘very closely’ and another 22 % say they are following it ‘somewhat closely.” Almost two-thirds of Americans are following it “less closely” and 39 % of Americans are not following the issue at all.

The most telling part of the new poll is that it is based only on broad-brush questions such as “Generally speaking, would you favor or oppose a new law that would make it easier for labor unions to organize workers?” which don’t reveal the controversial parts of the bill.

Supporters of “card check” are sure to spin it hard, such as NBC’s Mark Murray who said, “Labor unions and supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act (or "card check") are touting a new Gallup poll, which shows that a majority — 53% — favor a law making it easier for unions to organize new workers.” Along with this, The Huffington Post ran an article that said these findings “provide a solid boost to EFCA backers.” What kind of boost is still to be determined.

The basics of the legislation is that it would let “card check” be a way for employees to unionize rather than the long standing law of voting by secret ballot. So once a majority of workers have signed union authorization forms the company can become unionized. The bill also increases the penalties on businesses that try to fight against union organizers and gives federal mediators more of a role in union contract settlements.

Supporters of the legislation talk about how it would give employees more of a say. According to the Employment Law Alliance (ELA) they believe it will be “a way to increase unionization and improve the lives of middle-class America.”

Those against the bill believe it is an infringement on the rights of workers, and that having a secret ballot vote is fundamental to this. Last Thursday, Home Depot’s CEO Frank Blake said his company opposed the bill saying, “"We don’t think it’s a good thing for the country” and that Home Depot was founded with the idea that they should "Take care of the customers and take care of the associates, and everything else takes care of itself."

When the poll was broken down by party lines, the biggest support for the bill is from Democrats, with 70 % saying they are in favor of the bill. The majority of Republicans, 60 %, oppose it.

The most telling piece of the survey is the fact that those who are following the legislation the closest are also opposed to it: 58 % are opposed and 40 % are in favor. Plus, those that are following it the least closely are giving it the most support.

In previous polls Americans have been supportive of unions, with last August’s poll giving labor unions a 59% approval rating. These sympathies could help the Democrats push the bill forward, especially if they argue that it is just about helping unions organize more easily and efficiently. The only problem is that there is more to the bill that just that. With only 12 % paying close attention to the bill it could pass without the general public really knowing what it entails.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a much more complex piece of legislation than just helping unions to organize. Because of this it makes it difficult for polls and surveys to assess how much the public truly supports it when only 12 % are actually following what the legislation contains.

Gallup promises to poll on the details of the bill later. Those polls will be much more revealing of the public’s real views.