Politics & Policy

Bosses 1, Workers 0

Union officials sweep janitors' rights away.

Following a two-month media circus at the University of Miami that included strikes, high-profile visits from national politicians and activists, and even a hunger strike, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) officials are now claiming victory.

What’s the victory? Workers will have less freedom to choose whether to unionize, of course!

The union will now be allowed to use its weapon of choice–the notoriously abusive procedure called “card check” to sweep university janitors into union ranks. Under this scheme, rather than allowing employees to choose whether to unionize through the less-abusive election process run by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), union officials will now only have to collect the signatures of an agreed-upon number of employees before UNICCO, the employer, will recognize the union.

Having been armed with employee’s home addresses by UNICCO–a standard concession in such card-check arrangements–union organizers know it will be easy to coerce the signing of “authorization cards” from harassed and browbeaten employees.

Under card check, workers frequently report that union organizers lie to them about the cards’ true purpose. Some are told that they are health-insurance enrollment forms, requests for a unionization election, or even tax forms. These lies, along with outright threats, bribes, and stalkings suffered by others have triggered a legal backlash by workers with help from the National Right to Work Foundation.

Even the AFL-CIO knows that signed cards are not a true indicator of an employee’s wishes. In fact, its own handbook for union organizers has noted that workers will often sign such cards just “to get the union off their backs.” And in a legal brief to the NLRB, AFL-CIO lawyers argued that end-running the traditional procedure creates an environment where employees are unfairly susceptible to “group pressure.”

Furthermore, even though union organizers work for months to pressure employees to sign cards, revoking a previously signed card can be next to impossible.  In 2000, an NLRB official told an employee who asked how to get back a card he had signed under false pretenses that union officials were not required to return it or rectify union organizers’ misrepresentations.

Not surprisingly, employees themselves oppose the card-check process. In a 2004 Zogby International poll, over three quarters of union members opposed the idea of mandating card check as the only legal unionization method, as Big Labor’s allies in Congress have proposed.

Yet for most union officials, this abusive and unpopular unionization procedure is their preferred method of bolstering their forced-dues revenue streams. In 2004, fully 80 percent of workers were unionized outside the traditional NLRB process. Summing up the SEIU union’s new modus operandi, one SEIU local chief recently quipped to the Wall Street Journal that “we don’t do elections”–a statement proved in Miami.

After all, if the employees had actually wanted the representation of union officials, they could have petitioned the NLRB–but they didn’t. So the union brass put on their charade–parading a steady stream of union professionals, Washington-based activists, and Hollywood stars through their makeshift “Freedom Village” to pressure the University to put the screws on UNICCO to grant card check.

The university officials wanted the circus to end before a flood of parents arrived for graduation, so they pressured UNICCO to cave to the union bosses’ demands. In exchange, union officials dropped their PR campaign and trumped-up legal complaints.

This shakedown of employers to agree to card check is the wave of the future because union officials know that workers won’t vote for unions like they used to.  

SEIU chief Andrew Stern pulled the SEIU out of the AFL-CIO because he believed that the union conglomerate was not doing enough to pursue these tactics. And even before his “victory” at the University of Miami, dozens of other card-check pushes were targeting workers around the country.

Hopefully, the next time union officials and employee freedoms face off, workers will actually come out on top.

–Stefan Gleason is vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

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