Guest editorial by Gerald Cavanaugh
To be charitable, one may say that Froma Harrop is simply ignorant in her criticism of the proposed "Employee Free Choice Act." (See her column in the Nov. 11 Tidings: "Unions' creepy push against secret ballots.") The EFCA would require only that a majority of workers in a defined bargaining unit sign a card calling for a union to represent them. The company would then be required to negotiate with the union.
What Harrop and other opponents cavil at is the open, non-secret voting process. But such critics never suggest that the "secret" card check process would be acceptable if such a vote were followed immediately — in one or two days — by an open, Labor Department-regulated vote. The bosses won't buy it, for reasons noted below.
Two points: Why do unions and most workers favor such a manner of voting? Well, under present rules, following a showing that a legally required number of workers are in favor of unionizing, the required secret ballot often takes weeks or months before the actual election takes place. In the existing scheme, the company holds all the cards. Management can hold anti-union meetings of employees; and, by the way, companies like Wal-Mart subject prospective employees to a lengthy anti-union indoctrination before hiring "associates." You may be sure that all Wal-Marters learn that lesson.
Oh, did I mention the many thousands of workers nationwide who are fired because they start talking union? Such firings are illegal under the law, but the resolution of such cases takes as long as five years to run through the very expensive legal maze in place. Who has the union-busting lawyers? Who has the money? Who has the time? International human rights groups have long maintained that the American system is a violation of workers' human rights.
Another point: In contrast, under the present regime unions are not allowed to present their case to the workers, or even to use a company's internal communications system to present the union view. Management may "predict" (it is illegal to "threaten") that jobs will be lost, and wages and benefits will drop; that the plant will close down; that operations will be shifted overseas, jobs "outsourced" and other such dire results — all of which place the workers' livelihoods at risk.
This is the "secret ballot" process that Harrop claims "lets workers make that judgment without an organizer (or company official) breathing down their necks." How wrong she is.
The Chamber of Commerce will cry crocodile tears over the alleged demise of the sacred "secret ballot" and do everything in its enormous power to derail the EFCA, to prevent the workers through their unions from having any control over their conditions of employment. In America, taking a job all too often means losing your human rights and your human dignity. Fundamentally, it demonstrates who has power over another. Think "wage slavery."
It's time for a better, deeper, more just New Deal.
Gerald Cavanaugh is a retired professor of history and social theory living in Ashland. He has lived here 15 years.