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Decades ago, a then-young man of my acquaintance found summer employment while working his way through college, driving a taxicab in New York City.
The company was unionized.
One day, my young friend showed up for work to find all the cabs sitting idle in the garage, and the workers standing about in groups, making no preparations to take them out.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“You’re on strike,” he was informed.
“Really? What are we striking for?” the young man inquired.
By his account, this inquiry was not well received. Several burly men, who looked like they might have both suffered and administered physical punishment in their time, began moving toward him, giving the appearance that they were about to demonstrate what happened to anyone who dared challenge the decision of the Local.
Fortunately, a wiser acquaintance, familiar with the college boy’s pattern of speech, ran to place himself between the large fellows and the lad, explaining, “No, no, no. He didn’t mean to say we shouldn’t go out, did you kid? He just meant ‘What are we striking FOR,’ like ‘Are we striking for wages, or benefits, or shorter shifts, or what?’ He just wants to be able to explain to people why we’re out. Right, kid?”
The event happened long ago, in a city far away. It would be nice to think the proclivities of union organizers have changed over the years. But organized labor’s current promotion of the misleadingly named “Employee Free Choice Act” argues otherwise.
The only growth area for American organized labor in recent decades has been among government agencies, where the increased costs imposed by unionization can be easily passed on to the “customers” without concerns about losing market share to the competition ... since government agencies allow no competition.
In the private sector, victimized by the fading of the smokestack industries and perhaps to some extent by their own success in passing “worker protection” laws, unions are not faring well. Union membership fell to 7.8 percent of American private sector workers last year, from 20 percent in 1983.
Why? Under current federal law -- a 1935 law the unions long pushed for -- 30 percent of workers at any given workplace can demand an election on union representation simply by signing petitions. At that point, the vote to unionize or not is conducted by secret ballot, under the supervision of the National Labor Relations Board.
Unions brag that they win a majority of these elections. But that’s only because organizers are reluctant to call for a secret ballot unless they know they can win -- unless they can count 70 percent promised support, according to some estimates.
In fact, under the current law, most attempts to unionize fail. So the AFL-CIO et al. now want to change the rules. The so-called “Employee Free Choice Act” is nothing less than an attempt to do away with the secret ballot in such elections, nationwide -- replacing it with a card count.
Under a card count system, organizers prevail upon individual workers to sign cards indicating they want to unionize. Once a majority of current employees have signed, presto! -- you have a union shop.
The problem lies in that phrase, “prevail upon.”
Secret ballots exist for a reason. Imagine if the way we “voted” for sheriff was not behind the curtains at the voting booth, but rather by finding uniformed police officers coming to our doors, several at a time, at a time of their choosing, “urging” us to sign a card in favor of their preferred candidate, strongly indicating that those who refuse to cooperate might be subject to a little more rigorous law-enforcement attention.
Similarly, organizers seem to believe they can fare better by having a few burly chaps corner each worker in a hallway or in the parking lot, asking him or her to sign a card, than by allowing that worker to vote in secret. Why would that be, do you suppose?
As the Wall Street Journal editorialized on Sept. 5, “The potential abuses here are myriad, especially in workplace intimidation.”
Yet the unions argue they need this change because “Employers routinely harass, intimidate and coerce workers who try to exercise their right to form a union at work,” according to the AFL-CIO’s Web site.
During a secret ballot? Why hasn’t the NLRB ever blown the whistle on such malfeasance?
Because it can’t occur during government-supervised secret balloting, of course. Since a voter’s choice can hardly be any more “free” and “non-coerced” than in an anonymous secret ballot, which gives no one the chance to punish a “wrong” vote, one has to wonder if the sponsors of this law didn’t have to go digging through George Orwell to find an appropriate naming convention.
The majority of U.S. senators -- including plenty of Republicans -- and about half the members of the House have signed on as “co-sponsors” of this so-called “Employee Free Choice Act.” Yet vote-counters say it has little current chance of reaching President Bush’s desk.
“Sponsors” aren’t obliged to vote for their own bills, you see. And -- hard as it may be to believe -- apparently some of today’s politicians are willing to sign on as “co-sponsors” in order to curry favor with organized labor ... so long as they think there’s little chance of the darned thing passing.
But things could be very different if the Democrats recapture one or both houses of Congress, this November.
That’s organized labor’s top priority, this year.
And do they have a second wish? Sure. The “Employee Free Choice Act.”
“Hi. Big Al and me was wondering if you had a moment to talk. No, no, let them go on ahead, this won’t take long. Our list shows you ain’t signed your card yet. Was there some problem? Did you need some help signing your card? ’Cause if you have a broken finger or something, if you was in need of some help, we will gladly help you hold the pen. What? You don’t have a broken finger? Did you hear that, Big Al? Show Big Al which finger you have that isn’t broke, yet. ...”