You certainly wouldn't think that most Americans approve
of unions. After all, only about 12 percent of those who work for a living are
But despite that low percentage, and despite the frequent
anti-union messages delivered by some of the country's most influential
corporate and political leaders, a new Gallup poll shows that almost 60 percent
of the people surveyed approved of unions. Less than 30 percent disapproved.
Most of the support for unions comes from Democrats and
independents. It works out to 72 percent of Democrats favoring unions, 63
percent of independents favoring them - but only 38 percent of Republicans in
Almost two-thirds of those polled believed that unions
should have more influence, or at least the same amount of influence, as now.
Only about one-third said they wanted unions to have less influence.
Other polls that also have shown strong public support
for unions. One of the most significant showed that more than three-fourths of
Americans support enactment of strong laws to protect the right of workers to
decide freely on whether they want their workplaces to be unionized.
The National Labor Relations Act is supposed to guarantee
that, but the law is only barely enforced and is greatly in need of
Studies show that thousands of employers regularly
intimidate workers who support or attempt to organize unions. They often fire
or threaten to fire them or otherwise punish them, despite the law.
Employers order supervisors to spy on organizers. They
force workers to attend meetings at which employers describe unions as evil
dues-grubbing outsiders. They often claim - falsely- that unionization will
lead to pay cuts, layoffs, outsourcing of work or even force them out of
The legal penalties for such actions are slight - usually
small fines at most. Often the fines are not even imposed. And workers fear
complaining to the government about violations because it usually takes months
- if not years - for the government to act, and the complaining workers could meanwhile be fired.
That keeps many workers from even trying to exercise
their union rights. Surveys show, in fact, that more than 60 million non-union
workers want to unionize but won't try because they fear employer
retaliation. And for good
Every year, more than 60,000 workers who do try to organize unions are
punished, half of them fired.
There's a remedy for that - the Employee Free Choice Act
that's been before Congress for several years. It would greatly increase the penalties on employers
who violate workers' union rights, fining them up to $20,000 per violation. And employers who stall in contract negotiations with
workers who vote to unionize - another
common tactic - would have the contract terms determined in mediation or
dictated by an arbitrator.
The key provision of the proposed law would grant union
recognition on the showing of union membership cards by a majority of an
employer's workers, rather than holding an election, as is now done in most
cases. The law was like that originally, with no lengthy election campaigns and
thus less opportunity for employers to intimidate workers.
Opponents of the Free Choice Act have seized on that
so-called card check provision as a violation of democratic principles. They
claim it would deny workers the basic democratic right of a secret ballot. But
there are at least two major flaws in that argument:
The Free Choice Act says if a majority of an employer's
workers ask for unionization to be determined by a secret ballot election
rather than by a card check, an
election will be held. Secondly, those union representation elections that
opponents of the proposed law like so much are themselves serious violations of
basic democratic principles.
Employers openly violate the provisions of the Labor
Relations Act that govern election campaigning. They electioneer among voters
at their workplaces any time they wish, while prohibiting organizers from
entering the premises or even posting pro-union material. And they require voters to attend
pre-election meetings at which only the employer's side is presented.
What's more, the voting is held on the employer's
property, with voters escorted to the polls by employer representatives. And employers who lose elections can
delay recognizing the results for years. That's democracy?
The Free Choice Act passed the House handily last year,
but failed to get the 60-vote majority to overcome a Republican filibuster in
the Senate. Chances seem much better this year, in part because of strong
support by President-elect Obama, who was a co-sponsor of the measure in the
Senate and has pledged his continued strong support, as have most Democratic
members of Congress.
The AFL-CIO's campaign for the law is one of organized
labor's biggest ever, involving millions of dollars and millions of members.
But the opposition is waging what's shaping up as an even more expensive
effort, the biggest anti-union campaign in many years. It's being waged by many
powerful corporate employers, the entire Republican establishment, U.S. Chamber
of Commerce and other influential stalwarts of the anti-union right.
They may think they have a majority of Americans on their
side, since such a small percentage of workers belongs to unions. But even
should they win their battle with organized labor, the polls make clear that a
significant majority of Americans nevertheless support the unions that the
powerful opponents of free choice would destroy.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister