Educating on Employee Free Choice, Part 3

Joseph Slater of PrawfsBlawg evaluates the different parts of the Employee Free Choice Act and finds the conventional opposition to it, particularly regarding majority sign-up, to be lacking.

First, card check. Yeah, yeah, how can anybody oppose elections? I’ll get into why the union elections aren’t much like political elections, but I’ll begin by suggesting that requiring employers to recognize unions if the union produces cards, signed by a majority of workers in an appropriate bargaining unit where there is no proof of coercion or fraud, is not actually a radical idea. For one thing, mandatory card check was the law under the NLRA until the 1950s.

Also, from the passage of the NLRA through today, employers always have been allowed to recognize unions via card check and without an election. This means, among other things, that EFCA does not take away any right that any employee has to an election. EFCA would merely take away the right of an employer to force an election, in the face of a valid majority card showing. Employees would still have the same rights to, say, decertify the union later. Indeed, under Dana Corporation (NLRB 2007), before a card check recognition would be granted any protection from a decertification election, there must be a 45-day window after the recognition in which 30% of the employees are entitled to demand an election.

Further, in the public sector, where labor law is state and local law, five or six states have enacted mandatory card check recognition. I am not aware of any incidents of menacing union/mob stereotypes – the kind one sees in anti-EFCA ads – coercing employees in these jurisdictions. Similarly, mandatory card check recognition is the law in some Canadian provinces.

He also goes on to make a very powerful case for the strengthened penalties for employer violations in the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary, reasonable, and not objectionable. Regarding arbitration, Slater makes the important conclusion on the actual effect of binding arbitration mechanisms in the Act: “it’s likely that if this part of EFCA were enacted, the vast majority of negotiations would not actually use binding arbitration; rather, the law would serve as an incentive to bargain in true good faith.”

Slater’s whole piece is worth a read, as it’s one of the most accessible legal looks at what the Employee Free Choice Act does, what role each part of the legislation would play, and why it’s likely that the legislation as written is nowhere near the sort of bogey man Republicans and big business have portrayed it to be.

Educating on Employee Free Choice, Part 2

Marie Cocco has an op-ed in Oregon’s Statesman Journal on how the Republican Party is using the United Auto Workers as a whipping post to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. This is a very important dynamic to understand, but I think what’s also particularly relevant is Cocco’s discussion of how union busting business practices necessitate the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

When Reagan supplanted the striking controllers with “replacement workers” (previously known as strikebreakers or scabs), business got the message: It was perfectly acceptable, if not advantageous, to bust unions or to keep them from being organized. From there, it was a small step toward the widespread use of unethical, and sometimes illegal, tactics.

“When it comes to workers’ right to form unions, loophole-ridden laws, paralyzing delays and feeble enforcement have created a culture of impunity in many areas of U.S. labor law and practice,” according to a 2005 report by Human Rights Watch. In the 1950s, a few hundred workers each year suffered reprisals for union organizing. By the early part of this decade, according to the report, about 20,000 workers a year suffered a reprisal serious enough for the National Labor Relations Board to order back pay or take other steps.

Academic research has demonstrated that much of the illicit anti-union activity is conducted after employees have signed cards indicating they want a union, but before a formal election is held.

This is what the “free choice act” aims to eliminate: a waiting period during which three-quarters of companies hire consultants to thwart the organizing drive and engage in a variety of pressure tactics to keep employees from ultimately voting “yes.” About half of companies threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election, according to research by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University.

Go read all of Cocco’s piece. It’s a strong warning that the GOP will not back-off their attacks on America’s workers in an effort to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act and please their friends in Big Business.

Interrogation Op-Ed

Matthew Alexander, a former Air Force interrogator who worked in Afghanistan and Iraq questioning Al Qaeda suspects, has a powerful op-ed in the LA Times. Alexander makes a convincing argument that torture does not work and must be ended. Alexander writes:

Good interrogation is not an exercise in domination or control. It’s an opportunity for negotiation and compromise. It’s a common ground where the two sides in this war meet, and it’s a grand stage where words become giants, tears flow like rivers and emotions rage like wildfires. It is a forum in which we should always display America’s strengths — cultural understanding, tolerance, compassion and intellect. But that’s not how all interrogators see their role.

According to a recent report from the bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee, “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot be attributed to the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ acting on their own.” The effects of the policy that allowed torture to happen at Guantanamo Bay, the report concluded, spread to Iraq through the interrogators who had first been at Guantanamo. The preference for harsh interrogation techniques was extremely counterproductive and harmed our ability to obtain cooperation from Al Qaeda detainees. Even after the old guard interrogators were forced to play by the rules of the Geneva Convention, there was still plenty of leeway for interrogation methods based on fear and control. I believe their continued reliance on such techniques has severely hampered our ability to stop terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians.

We will win this war by being smarter, not harsher. For those who would accuse me of being too nice to our enemies, I encourage you to examine our success in hunting down Zarqawi and his network. The drop in suicide bombings in Iraq at two points in the spring and summer of 2006 was a direct result of our smarter interrogation methods.

I used to tell my team in Iraq: “The things that make you a good American are the things that will make you a good interrogator.” We must outlaw torture across every agency of our government, restore our adherence to the American principles passed down to us and, in doing so, better protect Americans from future terrorist attacks.

We are safer when we use intelligent questioning and trust building forms of interrogation. Those work. Torture doesn’t.

“Losing Lhasa”

Jonathan Kurlantzick of The New Republic has a very sober assessment of the situation in Tibet and how China is using development and jobs to compel Tibetans to be non-political. It’s a dangerous long-term strategy that could be a deathblow to Tibetan society and culture. Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, is now a majority Chinese city, thanks to government policies to bring settlers to Tibet and strong control of Tibet’s economy by Han Chinese. The balance between cultural genocide and colonialism is a fine one, but there’s no way to look at how the Chinese government is handling Tibet and think it reflects well on them.

NYT Gets It

The New York Times has a huge editorial in support of labor and the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s all good, but here’s a key passage:

The first and biggest test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to labor, and to Ms. Solis, will be his decision on whether or not to push the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. Corporate America is determined to derail the bill, which would make it easier than it has been for workers to form unions by requiring that employers recognize a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards indicating they wish to organize.

Ms. Solis voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. Mr. Obama voted in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor and supported it during the campaign.

The measure is vital legislation and should not be postponed. Even modest increases in the share of the unionized labor force push wages upward, because nonunion workplaces must keep up with unionized ones that collectively bargain for increases. By giving employees a bigger say in compensation issues, unions also help to establish corporate norms, the absence of which has contributed to unjustifiable disparities between executive pay and rank-and-file pay.

Educating on Employee Free Choice

There has recently begun to be a higher volume of pro-Employee Free Choice Act posts written on progressive blogs. I’m seeing a lot more bloggers make the case for increased worker rights and modernization of labor laws. In an effort to promote their good work, as well as spread the education of liberal blog readers on why it is so critical that Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act with all speed, I’m going to periodically highlight some of the best commentary on Employee Free Choice that I see around the blogosphere.

Mick Arran of Fact-esque has a great post up discussing the US Chamber of Commerce’s announced intention to spend $10 million to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. Arran makes a highly pragmatic argument about the relationship between unions and successful businesses. Arran writes:

[The Employee Free Choice Act] allows workers to sign a card in secret before the employer can marshall his forces to scare the bejesus out of employees and intimidate them into voting against unionizing even when they want a union. And to the employer, make no mistake about it, keeping a union out is tantamount to fighting a war. They have convinced themselves that the company will disintegrate if the employees are union, that they are therefore fighting for their very lives. The fact that that has almost never been true and that to the contrary unionized shops tend to make more money than “right-to-work” shops isn’t part of their worldview. They neither recognize it no acknowledge it.

I’ll be curious to see how Arran continues to write about the Employee Free Choice Act.  The successes of unionized businesses suggests that at some level the opposition to unionized workforces in the business world isn’t entirely ontological. Hatred of unions is something that is taught in the business world. Clearly the Chamber of Commerce is investing $10 million to teach this lesson to their constituents again. But it just isn’t true and posts like Arran’s help highlight the facts.

One small nit-pick with Arran’s post: the use of the acronymn. It’s the Employee Free Choice Act, something which is clear and easy to understand, as it gives workers a choice as to how they can organize unions in their workplace – by majority sign-up or by an election. Using the acronym makes what we’re talking about abstract and unintelligible. If we can succeed in telling the public and members of Congress specifically what we support, then we can win. If we argue for alphabet soup, winning becomes much, much harder on an elemental level.

Disclosure: I’m proud to work for the Service Employees International Union. This post was neither approved by nor with the knowledge of SEIU. It represents my views alone.

China Detains 59 Tibetans for Thought Crimes

Smell the tyranny:

The police have detained 59 people in Tibet on charges that they sought to foment unrest by spreading ethnic hatred and by downloading and selling banned songs, Chinese state media reported Thursday.

The detainees, none of whom were identified, are accused of acting at the behest of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader whom the government blames for encouraging separatist sentiment in heavily Tibetan areas.

Since Dec. 4, public security officials have been sweeping the markets of Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, looking for compact discs that contain “reactionary songs,” according to the China News Service. Those who distribute such songs, the report said, “hope to spark violence and damage Lhasa’s political stability.”

Although news reports did not say whether the detainees were formally arrested and charged, they are accused of threatening national security by advocating for an independent Tibet and by expressing disdain for the ethnic Han migrants who now dominate commerce in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities. [Emphasis added]

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Tibet is not a free country. Tibetans living under fifty years of Chinese military occupation bear the brunt of a brutal government that is scared of what Tibetans think, what they dislike, what they read, what music they listen to, what songs they sing, and what they believe. It’s a global embarrassment that the world community does not respond to China’s tyrannical occupation of Tibet with even a modicum of outrage.