Friday, January 23, 2009

What's This Card Check Stuff All About?

A few weeks before the election, a retired teacher who was clearly anti-Obama, asked, "What right does he have to take away the secret ballot in union elections?"

"Huh,"I said at first? "Oh, you mean Card Check. The unions want that, I tried to explain. But it was no use. She found another reason not to vote for Obama.

Well, she was not very conscious of union issues anyway.

But I was shocked at a small meeting I was at a week or two ago when a close political ally and strong union person expressed concern over the loss of the secret ballot implied in the card check campaign. That he was confused made it clear that we have to do more education on the issue and I've intended to write about it for some time.

Thank goodness for NYC Educator. The other day he talked about how Obama was already waffling on the issue in this post and I've finally has gotten off my ass. I left the following comment on his blog.

Ahh, the old secret ballot.

This is my impression of how card check works and correct me if I'm wrong.

Card check means if a majority of people sign a statement they want a union they get it without having an election. This is majority rule. And this seems to be what happened at the KIPP school - in NY state or the city do unions have that protection so there is no secret ballot at the KIPP school?

But the business community wants to do it again. After the majority sign off, they now have to vote - in essence a do-over. But now the boss has all the names of the people who signed. And a list of the most active organizers. SO guess what happens in the do-over? Maybe a few of these people disappear into layoff land. Or are threatened. And lo and behold, after the "secret ballot" the unions lose. Fear is a powerful weapon.

Reminds me of some UFT chapter elections where school admins get involved which are in some ways similar to the secret ballot.

I am sure part of the training at the principal academy is how to assure an admin friendly chapter leader and the techniques to use during the election to make it happen.

I lived through a few of these when my principal attempted to install her own CL. She ran her own slate against the CL (A decent Unity guy) and me as the delegate. 2 pro admin hacks who had shown little interest in the union before. It was a battle royal.

Months before I had filed a grievance for one of her flunky's jobs in special ed and won at the district level (I slipped the Supt. 2 Ranger game tickets after I won to thank him).

This "win" placed me in the heart of the beast - a special ed unit headed by the guy running against the CL. Over the months I was able to win over just enough votes to give the CL a 2 vote victory. I won by 6 votes.

Fifteen years later I took over as CL after that same Unity guy I had helped withdrew from the election, the principal sent the AP around with a petition calling for a new election so they could find a candidate to run against me. Over 20 UFT members were intimidated enough to sign it. We just ignored the petition, as we had followed UFT rules on holding elections to the tee.

I've actually heard of principals going to the UFT to complain about procedures - or getting their flunkies to do so - when they don't like the result. (And if the winner happens to be an ICE person, they get a good shot at getting a new election.)

I hope my little tale provides an insight as to why card check is so important and why we should not look at the narrow issue of the secret ballot in relation to democracy without considering the full implications.

Of course, the corporate world and the right wing has been presenting this as a workers' rights issue - that union goons will intimidate workers into signing on. Considering the state of labor in this country, we know where the goons are really coming from.


  1. Based on my experience as a staffer with the musicians union, the employer does not see who signed authorization cards.

    The employer provides a list of employees, and a mutually-agreed upon third party checks off the cards against the employee list.

    The practical, real-world problem with union elections is that it's very easy for management to manipulate an NRLB process that over the decades has become much more amenable to employers. In the interim, while the Board is permitting all sorts of delays, the boss is putting the squeeze on the bargaining unit, cajoling, threatening, lying, conducting mandatory meetings where all sorts of distortions are put out.

    The purpose of EFCA is to short-circuit that process, which has become so slow that most unions have given up on even trying to use it. The problem is that the AFL-CIO has not done enough to educate even its own members about the importance of it, while the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and anti-union propaganda and PR shops are making headway demonizing it as anti-democratic and un-American. Canada has card-check, one reason why it has much higher union density.

    The fact that Obama has given some signals that he may not fight for it does not bode well, either.

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  3. Interesting! I have always wondered about how these things work, now more or less I already have a picture of how things go! Thanks!


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