PI Original Adam Doster Monday May 4th, 2009, 3:19pm

UIC Report Undermines Main Argument Against EFCA

Big business and anti-labor legislators love to trot out the claim that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) effectively "strips workers"
of a secret ballot election, thereby opening up the door for union
intimidation. Of course, this is a gross distortion of the ...

Big business and anti-labor legislators love to trot out the claim that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) effectively "strips workers" of a secret ballot election, thereby opening up the door for union intimidation. Of course, this is a gross distortion of the bill. Both forms of unionization -- majority sign-up and elections -- are currently allowed under federal labor law and would be preserved under EFCA. The bill simply gives workers the "choice," rather than their employer. Critics also conveniently ignore the evidence of rampant intimidation by employers during extended election campaigns.

But is there central contention even correct? Does card check lead to union coercion? The recent experience of Illinois workers suggests not in the slightest.

Since 2003, Illinois labor law has allowed public sector workers in municipal, county, state, and educational institutions to organize a union via a majority sign-up certification process (PDF). By submitting authorization cards, petitions, or any other evidence that demonstrates that a majority of the employees wish to bargain collectively with a union, the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) or the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (in the case of teachers) can certify a bargaining unit without requiring a full workplace election. Petitions may be defeated if "clear and convincing evidence" is presented showing that the cards were obtained by “fraud or coercion.” (In these situations, the boards generally order an election.)

Thanks to Freedom of Information requests and follow-up interviews with a number of board agents, Bob Bruno, co-director of the University of Illinois-Chicago's Labor Education Program, got his hands on all of the case data for fiscal years 2003-2009. His findings are astonishing.

In the past six years, 21,197 public sector workers from a wide variety of industries have organized under the new guidelines, with the boards certifying 799 units. While just under 300 petitions were dismissed because the union failed to achieve majority support, literally zero petitions were thrown out because of labor coercion. From the report (PDF):

While the extensive use of MIP and their representativeness of the state’s workforce are impressive, the most dramatic outcome of the provision’s administration is the total absence of any employee or union abuse. In over 1,000 cases there is only one allegation of union coercion or fraud to compel or induce workers to sign authorizations. The ILRB found the complaint to be meritless.

It's true that the Illinois law only applies to public employees, not workers at private companies. But Bruno -- who has also analyzed private organizing campaigns -- tells us that there is no reason to think that union organizers would change their behavior based on the employer.

"Frankly," he said, "when you create a process by which workers in non-hostile environments rationally engage the pros and cons of unionizing, the union has no power to punish those opposed."

The AFL-CIO will release the study later today. As spokesperson Alison Omens told Greg Sargent, Bruno's report demonstrates "that the system under majority sign-up works.” Hopefully, reporters will have it at the ready the next time business interests fearmonger about EFCA.

UPDATE: On the AFL-CIO blog, Seth Michaels notes that "Bruno’s study is the first in a series that will examine majority sign-up provisions in states around the country."

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