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June 5, 2009

Secret Ballot Remains

As the rabbinic student intern for the Jewish Labor Committee this year (and an attorney for 25 years), I have carefully studied the provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and the labor legislation it would amend. It puzzles me to repeatedly hear the inaccurate contention that EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot, as even your editorial (May 15) claims.

EFCA does not ditch secret ballot elections for forming a union. Instead it would provide an alternate track to union organizing. EFCA leaves the election option intact; if employees wish to use an election to obtain union representation, all the provisions for a secret ballot will remain operative under EFCA and be available to them. Moreover, some jurisdictions already allow card sign-up, and coercion is far lower there (with data showing coercion by unions to be only one-fifth of that by employers), so workers have a choice not just in theory but in practice.

Jonathan Zimet
New York, N.Y.

Forgetting History

The Forward, in editorializing against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), seems to have forgotten its own history and that of the Hebrew Trades.

When the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers were formed early in the last century there were no “secret ballot” elections. The employers opposed unions, using many of the same arguments they use today. Workers were compelled to meet secretly, agree on the need for a union in meetings, and then “coerce” the employer into accepting a contract through strike action and mobilizing support in the community. It was not uncommon then, as now, for employers to clothe their opposition to union organizing as a “heroic” stand for the rights of workers who chose not to join their fellow strikers. Then and now such claims are fraudulent.

Fortunately, the ILGWU, the Amalgamated and the other unions that came to be organized in the United Hebrew Trades did not wait for a phony, employer-controlled “secret” ballot. Their victories, supported by the socialist Forward of that era, made possible the great leap of the Jewish masses into the American middle class.

Yet, now the Forward is turning its back on a new generation of workers fighting for the ability to form unions free from employer coercion and intimidation.

Ray Scannell
BCTGM Intl. Union

Restore Worker Control

Majority sign-up, which EFCA would make widely available, has been legal since 1935. It’s illegal for a union to coerce even one worker to sign a union authorization (“card-check”), and will remain illegal after EFCA becomes law. Consequences for union coercion are dire: unions would not be recognized. According to the University of Illinois, of the 21,000 public workers who formed unions via majority sign-up in Illinois since 2003, not one worker was coerced. Conversely, the American Rights at Work Education Fund and the Economic Policy Institute recently found that private-sector employer intimidation against U.S. workers organizing has become more intensely punitive, with increased firings, coercion, threats, surveillance, retaliation and harassment.

Which side are you on?

Sybil Sanchez
Jewish Labor Committee

A Fairer Process

Your recent editorial, “Real Freedom of Choice,” contains mistakes and some rather poor arguments. Union organizing consists of two steps, union election and first contract bargaining. Employers have subverted both of them. Card check does not replace a union election. It adds another choice for the worker. Today, the employer chooses whether to accept card check or a secret election. EFCA takes the choice of representation procedures out of the hands of the employer and gives it to the workers, a choice that is far more worthy of democracy. The union election procedure is not eliminated but the process is made fairer.

The other issue you get wrong is how the two sides get to a first contract under EFCA. Even if workers are successful in a union organizing drive, the employer can engage in surface bargaining and never agree to a contract. This happens all the time. Time is always on their side.

That is why EFCA has an arbitration clause, not just a mediation process that your editorial mentions. If after 120 days, the two sides cannot agree on a contract, the process calls for arbitration.

Too many workers have lost their jobs and work opportunity because the law that was written to give them basic human rights has been subverted by the other side.

Robert Wechsler
Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO


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