In discussion of EFCA, Wash. Post downplayed alleged intimidation and harassment by employers in current system, calling it "unfair pressure"

››› ››› TOM ALLISON

The Washington Post purported to represent organized labor's argument for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act by reporting that "unions contend" employers exert "unfair pressure" on workers before elections. However, the word "pressure" inaccurately describes what the "unions contend" are the tactics used by employers to stop a union from organizing, which include intimidating workers, firing workers, and threatening to shut down factories and businesses.

In a January 9 article, The Washington Post purported to represent organized labor's argument for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by reporting that "unions contend that the current system leads to unfair pressure from employers before elections." However, reporter Alec MacGillis' use of the word "pressure" in describing employers' alleged tactics in attempting to stop a union from organizing misstates what the "unions contend" are the tactics used against union supporters in the workplace. As Media Matters for America has noted, such tactics allegedly include intimidating workers, firing workers, and threatening to shut down factories and businesses.

As The New York Times reported, "Union officials say they do not dislike the secret ballot, but rather the lengthy, expensive, adversarial campaign before the vote in which companies often fire union supporters and use videos, large meetings and one-on-one sessions to pressure employees to vote against unionizing." A September 2000 study by Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University, examined more than 400 NLRB certification election campaigns in manufacturing plants between January 1, 1998, and December 31, 1999, and found that 25 percent of employers fired at least one worker for union activity and that 51 percent of employers told employees that their plant might close if workers unionized. In a December 2005 study of organizing campaigns in Chicago, Chirag Mehta and Nik Theodore of the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago wrote: "Aided by a weak labor law system that fails to protect workers' rights under the law, employers manipulate the current process of establishing union representation in a manner that undemocratically gives them the power to significantly influence the outcome of union representation elections. ... The findings of this report suggest that unions were unable to maintain worker support throughout the course of representation campaigns because employer interference eroded that support."

Also, a January 2007 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research explained how the current election process allows employers to exert pressure on workers:

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) makes it illegal for employers to fire workers involved in union-organizing campaigns. The penalties associated with "discriminatory discharges" under the NLRA, however, are small: back pay for illegally fired workers minus [emphasis in the original] any earnings that workers had after they were fired. Given these small penalties for illegal firings, the NLRA, in practice, has given employers a powerful anti-union strategy: fire one or more prominent pro-union employees --typically workers involved in organizing the union -- with the hope of disrupting the internal workings of the union's campaign, while intimidating the rest of the potential bargaining unit in advance of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-supervised representation election.

Moreover, in claiming that "[b]usiness groups" say that the EFCA would result in "union intimidation," while claiming only that "unions contend that the current system leads to unfair pressure from employers before elections," the Post ignored the fact that the NLRB reported that it issued far more complaints of unfair labor practices against employers than against unions in recent years. In its 2007 annual report, the NLRB reported that it received "22,331 charges alleging that employers or labor organizations committed unfair labor practices prohibited by the statute [National Labor Relations Act], which adversely affected employees." According to NLRB protocol, "the great majority of the newly filed cases are resolved in NLRB's national network of field offices by dismissals, withdrawals, agreements, and settlements." Those cases that could not be resolved in this manner resulted in the NLRB issuing 1,099 formal complaints, "88.4 percent were against employers and 10.6 percent against unions." In 2006, "88.1 percent were against employers and 10.7 percent against unions."

From the January 9 Washington Post article:

Labor supporters invested heavily in the 2008 election and are thrilled with Obama's nomination of Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-Calif.), who grew up in a union family. But they worry that the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] controversies will deplete support for their agenda in Washington, including in a looming battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to form.

The bill, dubbed "card check," would make it possible to form a union by collecting cards from a majority of workers, rather than through a secret-ballot election. Business groups say this would expose workers to union intimidation, while unions contend that the current system leads to unfair pressure from employers before elections. Union leaders cite such pressure as a reason why organized labor has shrunk to representing 7 percent of private-sector workers.

Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy, a pro-labor watchdog group, said the SEIU controversies and its move against the Northern California chapter, in particular, are a "serious problem" for labor.

Posted In
Economy, Labor Unions
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
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