Jane Hamsher has one of the best side by side organizing process comparisons I’ve seen between current organizing elections and organizing in a post-Employee Free Choice Act world.
This is the “secret ballot” process, which is in place right now:
A union decides they want to unionize workers of a particular company. They have to collect cards signed by more than 30% of that company’s eligible workers saying that they want to join the union and allow that union to negotiate with management on their behalf. The union usually does this by talking to workers and gathering signatures outside the work place, frequently at their homes, because companies have a bad habit of firing workers who try to organize (Dean Baker estimates one in five lose their jobs).
The union then turns the cards over to the NLRB, who verifies them and calls for an election. Now in practice, although the union only has to have cards signed by more than 30% of the workers they usually present 50%, because they know there is going to be intense pressure put on workers by employers and professional “union busters,” and they don’t want to waste their time unless they think there is serious support.
The NLRB is required to then set a date for a “secret ballot” election within 42 days, during which time workers are usually subject to various forms of intimidation. It’s easy for employers to ask for and receive extensions, however. When the “secret ballot” election is finally held, it’s conducted on the work premises, and workers have to file past the watchful eyes of their supervisors in order to cast their ballots. This is the “right” to “secrecy” that the anti-union forces seem to be so committed to preserving.
If more than 50% of workers vote to recognize the union to represent them, the union is recognized and they can begin negotiating with the employer for a first contract.
This is how majority sign-up (“card check”) would work under the Employee Free Choice Act:
A union decides they want to unionize workers of a particular company. They have to collect cards signed by more than 50% of that company’s eligible workers saying that they want to join the union and allow that union to negotiate with management on their behalf.
The union then turns the cards over to the NLRB, who verifies them.
If more than 50% of the cards are verified by the NLRB, the union is recognized and they can begin negotiating with the employer for a first contract.
“Secret ballot” isn’t “more secret,” it’s an extra step. In both cases, the union is responsible for getting cards signed and turning them over to the NLRB, so they know who has signed them. The “secret ballot” is just an extra hurdle that workers have to surmount if they want to recognize a union.
This is all to point out that the “secret ballot” canard pushed by big business lobbyists and GOP hacks is just that – spin meant to confuse the public (and voting members of Congress) about what is at issue with the Employee Free Choice Act. Business lobbies and Republican elites don’t give two shakes about protecting workers during union organizing drives. They only care about protecting the lop-sided structure of current NLRB regulations of how unions can be formed that gives businesses a huge leg up to block unionization. Employee Free Choice creates a level playing field and puts the decision about when and how to form a union back in the hands of workers.