If you haven’t heard about the Card Check legislation working its way through Congress, you will soon. It is destined to be the biggest issue facing this country and pitting labor vs. business now that the financial crisis has reached critical mass. Card Check is the nickname for legislation to change the way workers unionize. Currently, like our political process and virtually every other sensitive, private decision that requires a democratic vote, people undergo a secret ballot. This prevents your actual vote from being tracked, publicized, scrutinized, etc. by others after the vote occurs. What the labor movement is looking to do, and what Obama and the recently elected Democratic majority are now beholden to following this fall’s wins, is to change the secret ballot process to a card check signature – one where your vote will now be evident for all to see.
What’s the Big Deal?
On the face of it, if you’ve never worked in a Union environment or don’t know much about the complexities of union/management issues, it may not seem like a big deal and the card check criticism that is so prevalent today may seem overblown. OK, so instead of voting in a booth, you sign a piece of paper, right? The big deal is that in many workplaces, workers will feel intimidated to vote “Yes” for unionization at a particular company, because if they’re on the losing end of the vote and the company/facility is forced to unionize, there’s going to be hell to pay. I can say this because I’ve worked in a union, I’ve supervised union employees, my wife’s been in a union, and the reality from multiple life experiences is that, if you go against the grain, you may not have a very pleasant employment experience moving forward.
Are Unions All Bad?
No, I would be remiss to make such a broad categorical statement. And that’s not the debate here. The debate is whether or not this is an appropriate process of electing to unionize or not. While I portrayed the downside of the card check and concerns over intimidation, there are some roles that unions still serve, even in the 21st century that are worth considering. I had previously worked at a metals company where the conditions were pretty hazardous at times and if it weren’t for a union there, the injury/fatality rate may have been worse since that was the main focus of that union – worker safety. Worker safety is still a problem in the United States in the 21st century and OSHA isn’t always going to be able to prevent/penalize every situation that arises when a business is torn between what they believe to be cost control and safety (the best businesses don’t believe it’s a zero sum game and in fact perform better when they focus on safety, which in turn, improves employee morale, engagement and turnover). What usually catches headlines is the local teachers walking out for higher pay/better health benefits or something along those lines. What role unions serve in the US economy in aggregate is a whole different article.
Business’s Last Stand
If there’s a single issue that will ignite the ranks of US business this year, it’s this issue. Executive compensation on Wall Street – fine. Tax hikes – fine. Unionization gone wild? No way. That’s their thinking. The way many corporations view unions is simply this: For the same given workforce in a non-union environment, when you switch to a union environment, you now have higher pay for the same (or worse) performance/skill set, it is more difficult terminate or lay off employees, the workforce is less flexible via silo job descriptions (that’s not my job, you’re going to need an electrician to change that light bulb, etc.) and the list goes on. Essentially, the cost of doing business goes up.
I don’t think workers should be prevented from unionizing if that’s what they chose to do in a democratic fashion. However, I also don’t think employees that feel a union would not benefit them or their workplace should feel intimidated in voting with their conscience, but instead are forced to vote Yes out of fear of retaliation.
What are your thoughts?
Are you in a workplace that’s considering unionizing?
Is there any rational reason for making this private vote a public forum?
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