Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

With Bayh dropping out, citing the possibility that there would be just "too many Goliaths" in the 2008 race, Americans have been spared the burden of struggling to tell him and John Edwards apart in photographs for the next two years. That's the latest good news for Edwards, who seems to have been having a great run of late. It's no secret here that Edwards wants to enter the election season as a champion of American labor, a friend to the union movement. He talks easily about the relationship between Wal-Mart and its workers -- though I don't know if he's specifically addressed the company's "we do not believe there is a need for third party representation" stance. He's courting the big-boy unions. And he's turned to former House Whip Dave Bonior to lead his possible presidential run. (I say possible because one thing I've learned -- first with Warner, now with Bayh -- is that when potential candidates say that they're just considering a campaign, they might actually mean it.) Bonior's the chair of American Rights at Work, a group whose raison d'etre is to help workers get unionized.

But it's no secret that unions in America today are struggling. Union membership has dropped from 20 in 1983 to 13 percent last year. And the bulk of unionized America is made up of teachers, firefighters and other public workers -- compare the 37 of government workers who are unionized with the 8 percent of private employees who have collective representation. The problems of the American labor movement are many, many. But one big one is the hurdle that individual workers face just trying to organize themselves into a union. That's where card check comes in.

Stop me if you've heard this, but America once had a system called card-check organizing in which workers indicated their authorization of a collective bargaining rep simply by signing a card. Once 50% of the workers plus one signed these cards, they were shipped to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), who then pronounced the workers unionized. But card check was killed by the 1947 Labor-Management Relations Act, a.k.a. Taft-Hartley. Without card check, the system greatly favors the employer who wants no part of a unionized workplace. Without the expedited card-check process, management now has the chance to stop the momentum of unionization by attacking the collectivist spirit in their employees one-on-one. As Thomas Geoghegan put it in his fantastic book Which Side Are You On?:

Taft-Hartley ended "card checks" which the NLRB had just begun using to certify unions. The workers could just sign cards, saying "Hey, I'd like to join." And this is the system still used in Canada. But this would have been too easy, so Taft-Hartley required hearings, campaign periods, secret-ballot elections, and sometimes more hearings, before a union could be officially recognized.

(What's the argument against card check? Well, other than the fact that some employers just plain don't like unions, the argument goes that card-checked employees will never get a chance to cast a secret ballot for or against their collective bargaining rep.)

There's a bill that will come up before Congress next year, called the Employee Free Choice Act, that would restore card check. Pelosi has said that she'd like to see movement on it in early 2007. It's one of the bills talked about in Ezra Klein's article on the legislative proposals that progressives should focus on both because (a) they're good public policy and (2) they'll help grow and strengthen a Democratic majority. I don't know that even if the bill did become a law pre-2008 it would help Edwards all that much. But if America is soon a more union-friendly place, we may see more candidates who discover their love of the American labor movement.

(I'll admit that I had never heard of "card check" before I spent this past election week in southeastern Pennsylvania with the AFL-CIO. And was shocked to find that Wikipedia had no "card check" entry. It was like it never existed at all. So I started a page on it, but it'd be useful for some of us who know the ins-and-outs of union organizing to fix it up a bit. If it's going to be one of the building blocks of progressivism moving forward, we want to make sure people can easily find out what it is.)

Tags: John Edwards, Labor, progressive movement, Unions (all tags)

Comments

26 Comments

Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

Edwards talked about card check on Hardball this week, and Obama is on record favoring card check, too.

by demondeac 2006-12-16 10:23AM | 0 recs
Kerry endorsed card-check in 2004

That doesn't affect 2008, just giving credit where credit is due.   That's when I first heard about the issue.  

Bush supports the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would ban card check elections altogether. The legislation is currently pending. Meanwhile, the Bush-appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board is reviewing the card-check process, and could propose significant restrictions.

Kerry supports an opposing bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, which would require employers to recognize the results of card-check elections. The bill would also triple back pay for workers whose employers fired them for union activity, and would prevent employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings.


Coulda sworn Kerry mentioned it in one of the Presidential debates, but the transcripts say my memory is wrong.

by RT 2006-12-17 02:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

Haven't even heard of the issue before, but the more I hear about anti-labor actions, the more angered I get.  I'm very happy that this site has been focusing on labor issues and building the progressive movement.  I'm really excited about this bill, and suprised I hadn't seen anything written about this before the election.

by John Nicosia 2006-12-16 10:30AM | 0 recs
Edwards 2008 all the way to the Whitehouse.

Check out his OneAmericaCommittee site:

http://oneamericacommittee.com/

OAC blog:
http://blog.oneamericacommittee.com/

OAC OneCorp groups:
http://blog.oneamericacommittee.com/onec orps

DNC party builder group:
http://www.democrats.org/page/group/Edwa rdsfor2008

by dk2 2006-12-16 10:39AM | 0 recs
Electing a pro-labor president will change those %

As Edwards pointed out on Hardball the other night, companies bring in anti-union firms that often break the law, and there's only a slap on the wrist three or four years later. With a pro-labor president and Congress, expect that to change. It's time for America's working people to have their voices heard again.

by MeanBoneII 2006-12-16 10:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

This is something I have been spending some time talking about, specifically with regards to the Employee Free Choice Act.  The AFL-CIO had a day of action around it last Friday. We had a great example of why check-cards are needed locally here in Sacramento.  To make a long story short, workers at the Blue Diamond Growers (think Almonds) have been trying to organize for years.  The NRLB found several incidents where the company violated labor laws, but of course they are pretty toothless.  The Sacramento City council stepped in and granted the workers the right to organize using check-cards, which was fantastic.  The ERCA would avoid all of this and would be huge for workers to be able to exercise their desire to join a union through a democratic process.

by juls 2006-12-16 10:50AM | 0 recs
Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

Bravo Edwards!  If nothing comes of his candidacy but an invigorated labor movement it will be worth it.

by global yokel 2006-12-16 11:14AM | 0 recs
this has been in his stump speech all year

I saw Edwards in Iowa three times last spring and heard various versions of his stump speech (which I diaried here and here).

He talked about card check in his stump speeches, and in at least one version he said something along the lines of, "If someone can join the Republican Party just by filling out a card and signing it, someone ought to be able to join a union by filling out a card and signing it."

My favorite passage from the stump speech (don't know if he's still using it) was when Edwards would comment about how all these politicians talk about how important the good manufacturing jobs are, and how we need to keep the good manufacturing jobs here, but what they don't say is that those manufacturing jobs weren't so great before the union. Damn straight.

by desmoinesdem 2006-12-16 11:15AM | 0 recs
Card Check Organizing Is Still Legal

It's just that it requires the employer's agreement--which generally means a desire to preserve good relations, with the community, its workers, etc.  It's not just theoretical, either. A number of card check organizing drives are currently under way.  American Rights At Work explains:

Q:  How do card check procedures work under current law?

A:  Under current law, employers can recognize a union if a majority of employees demonstrates that they wish to be represented by a union--usually by signing forms designating the union as their collective bargaining representative.  It is illegal for employers to recognize a union that does not have majority support.  On the other hand, employers are under no obligation to recognize a union even if 100 percent of employees have signed such authorization forms.  For this reason, employees in many workplaces ask management to enter into so-called "card check" agreements, in which management agrees to voluntarily recognize the union if a majority of employees sign authorization forms or "cards."  Employers may enter into these agreements to maintain good relations with their employees, to maintain good relations with unions at their other worksites, or to maintain a favorable public image.  Respected community leaders or professional arbitrators are typically designated as neutral third parties to monitor the agreement and to verify that authorization forms have been signed by a true majority.

That's just the first Q&A from a whole page, so if you want more info, click the link.

by Paul Rosenberg 2006-12-16 11:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)
Edwards is certainly shoving Hillary, a former Wal-Mart board member, by bringing up the chain's labor practices. And hooray for the card-check!
See http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0021,ha rkavy,15052,5.html
by TomSkidmore 2006-12-16 11:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

It sounds like the past system can be improved upon. Why doesn't card-check allow for a secret ballot vote for the union rep? Can't they do both, holding a secret election after the 50%+1 cards are signed establishing the union? Workers can get stuck with a real crappy rep if the only deciding factor is office politics.

by OfficeOfLife 2006-12-16 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

Its secret ballot for union as their bargaining representative that is incompatible with card check ... that is, you either have an election, which can have a secret ballot, or else you collect cards. The only way to verify that the card check election is valid is to know who put in which card.

Secret ballot for union reps once a union is recognized would certainly be compatible. Personally I like it.

by BruceMcF 2006-12-16 12:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

Awesome post. For more info on the politics of card check, read up on the effort to unionize Yale-New Haven Hospital. I recommend www.newhavenindependent.org

Also, I like the combination of politics and policy that you use - I hope for many more posts like this one!

by CT student 2006-12-16 11:43AM | 0 recs
whose votes get split?

As an Edwards man, I'm not sure whether I should be happy or not about losing Bayh.  Sure, anybody who wants to vote for white dudes (or, more commonly in our party, anyone who wants to vote for someone from a red state) will find Edwards their remaining choice.  But Bayh would've also stolen centrist votes from Hillary, which is why I'll miss him.  

Then again, there aren't really many centrist votes to go around in a Democratic primaries -- there'll probably be a total of 11 or 12 pro-war Democratic voters in Iowa by January 2008.  So I don't know what to think

by Neil the Ethical Werewolf 2006-12-16 11:52AM | 0 recs
Re: whose votes get split?

I wouldn't necessarily put too much stock in Edwards' being from a red state.  His polling numbers showed he probably wouldn't have been re-elected in his home state had he sought re-election to the Senate, and though he did carry the Carolinas in 2004, there seems to be big-time Edwards fatigue down here.

by Laurin from SC 2006-12-16 12:11PM | 0 recs
Re: whose votes get split?

False. That's a right wing lie. Poll numbers showed that he was in the lead until he announced he wouldn't be running for re-election. Arguement could be made that even those numbers were a bit depressed amongst the Democratic activist base as they knew for sometime before his announcement that he was likely not running and were a tad annoyed they'd probably not be able to hold the senate seat.

by Quinton 2006-12-16 12:16PM | 0 recs
Re: whose votes get split?

Arguement could be made that even those numbers were a bit depressed amongst the Democratic activist base as they knew for sometime before his announcement that he was likely not running and were a tad annoyed they'd probably not be able to hold the senate seat.

Eh, I think that's a bit tenuous.  

But anyway, I do maintain that from my observations/conversations with Dem activists down here, there's major Edwards fatigue.  We looooooved him in 2004, but he's old news now.  The crush is over.  

by Laurin from SC 2006-12-17 07:08AM | 0 recs
Re: whose votes get split?

I don't think Bayh would have stolen many centrist votes from Hillary ... and I suspect that neither does Bayh, after his experience campaigning to this date, which is why he's calling it quits.

Of course, the benefit of the "run first, announce later" system is that you do not have to announce that you quit, you just announce that you are not running.

by BruceMcF 2006-12-16 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re:Hillary is unacceptable to may Red St Dems

Hillary is not the first choice of millions of Democrats in so called " Red & Purple States". These moderate/centrist democrats mostly from regions of the South, the Rocky Mountains & the Midwest are Huge block of Democratic voters.

These are the same voters who gave southerner Bill Clinton the nomination. The same Democrats who hurt Howard Dean's campaign & gave a 1,2,3 finish for Kerry, Edwards, & Clark.

These are the millions of registered democrats in states like South Carolina, Montana, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, TN,NV,LA,MS,AL,ID
ND, SDetc.

These are the democrats who vote for people like Max Baucus, Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Phil Brendesen, Brad Henry, Mark Warner, Jim Webb, Mark Pryor, Lincoln Blanche, Mary Landriue, Ben Nelson, Byron Dorgan, Landriue,  Dave Freudenthal,etc.

These group would have been the core of Mark Warner & Evan Bayh supporters. The so called silent majority within the party.

These are Democrats who are more conservative on a number of social & fiscal issues. These are not your typical political progressive/liberal activists that you normally hear from.

Right now, these people are looking for someone besides Hillary & Obama.

If Edwards & Clark run, they will get the support of these crucial voters.

I believe that General Clark is the One Candidate who can Unify the Left & Center of the Democratic Party. His stance on the War, his strong qualifications on National Security & Foreigh relations, his progressive stance on many issues would make Clark attractive to both progressives & moderates.

Edwards would compete for that same group. The weakness of Edwards is his vote on Iraq & his thin resume.

Richardson & Vilsack will go for the same block but Edwards & Clark would be more attractive to many.

I think that Clark will be on Unique canditate who will appeal to both Progressives & Moderates.

by livyoga 2006-12-16 01:10PM | 0 recs
I don't think there are many rural Iowans...

...who would have been deciding between Bayh and Hillary, though, based on her polling in Iowa's 3rd and 4th (and likely 5th) congressional districts. Between Bayh and Edwards, that might have been another story, to some degree.

An interesting point about scheduling: The Democrats' Iowa Caucus (Jan. 14) takes place one week before the Republicans' Iowa Caucus (Jan. 21), and polls (SurveyUSA, NBC/WSJ) show Edwards even with or ahead of McCain. Edwards is beating McCain (and Giulani) in Iowa, according to SurveyUSA. Independents can show up the night of the caucus, declare party affiliation, and participate.

by MeanBoneII 2006-12-16 12:20PM | 0 recs
That's supposed to be a reply to Neil's post nt

by MeanBoneII 2006-12-16 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Edwards, Clark

I have about 5 friends who were supporting Bayh.

Now, 2 plan to support Edwards. The other two are leaning Clark. While the last one wants to wait until Clark announces. She will then decide between Edwards & Clark.

I suspect that's going to be the trend of former Warner & Bayh supporters.

by livyoga 2006-12-16 01:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Card-Check Organizing (or, Too Many Goliaths)

I can't wait until Clark announces his intentions so we can finally put a rest to the Clark-as-Savior comments. I don't think he'll run, he did poorly 4 years ago and if possible is even less known now than he was then.  Remember, he was the "stalking horse" for Clinton in early/mid-2003 and was THE hot topic behind Howard Dean.

by Vox Populi 2006-12-16 01:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Clark

Clark came in really late in the race & still came in 3rd behind Kerry & Edwards.

I can already see the Democratic State of Chair of states like SC, VA, TN,AR, AL,MS,MO,NC,MT,WV, WY.

A Hillary or an Obama as the nominee will be bad news again for these Red & Purple states.

The Statewide & Congressional Candidates in All these Red & Purple states will be on their own again rather than campaign next to national democrats who are viewed as "out of touch" & too liberal for their states.

This is the Kerry & Gore dilemma all over again.

HRD & Obama hurt our goals of expanded majorities & defending purple seats will a national ticket that  can't even campaign in these states.

This is one distinct difference between HRC & Obama as opposed to an Edwards or Clark.

Both John & Wes can literally campaign as an asset in all 50 states. You will not  see a Democrats in the South & Midwest like Ronnie Musgrove, a Erks Bowles, Elen Tennebaum, Freudenlt running away & hiding from the national ticket.

by livyoga 2006-12-16 02:31PM | 0 recs
State Chairs???

I really only know one state well, NC, my home state.

But at least here, I can tell you that no candidate at the top of the Presidential ticket other than Edwards would be more welcomed than Obama.

The Obama effect on African-American voter registration and turnout would be historic.

We are under no illusion that NC will help elect a Democratic president. Nor is South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, etc.

But at the state level and in the congressional races that are competitive, our success depends on minority turnout.

by demondeac 2006-12-16 03:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Clark

I don't understand your logic here. Hillary is definitely and Obama may be, to the right of Edwards and probably clark too. Hilary may turn off red/purple staters b/c she has too much baggage but not b/c she's too liberal. And I don't see what about Obama turns those people off, unless you're saying they're all racists? I tend to think many of the racists aren't going to vote for the dem candidate regardless and I think race is much less of an issue in the mountain west states that are competitive as opposed to the deep south, which likely won't be competitive for any dem candidate.

by jujube 2006-12-16 04:18PM | 0 recs

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