Jewish World Review March 12, 2009 / 16 Adar 5769
No choice in Free Choice Act
By Glenn Garvin
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | If consistency is really the hobgoblin of little minds, then Hilda Solis and George Miller must be America's top ghostbusters. They think the secret ballot is the cornerstone of democracy, except for American workers deciding whether to join a labor union.
Miller is the U.S. House's chief sponsor of the Orwellianly named Employee Free Choice Act, a bill much-coveted by labor unions that would do away with secret-ballot voting when they're trying to organize a company workforce. And Solis, a former congresswoman from Southern California who is President Barack Obama's newly confirmed labor secretary, is EFCA's chief cheerleader.
Oddly enough, Miller and Solis used to think secret ballots were the very lifeblood of democracy. In 2001, introducing himself as someone "deeply concerned with international labor standards," Miller wrote Mexican officials urging them to allow workers to vote on unionization with secret ballots.
"The secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose," Miller wrote, adding that the practice "will help bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace." (The American workplace, I guess, is quite another matter.)
If that's not hobgoblin-free enough for you, consider Solis, who was in Miami last week promising labor leaders her full support for EFCA. Poor Solis felt quite differently in 2007 when she and her allies were losing a campaign for control of the congressional Hispanic Caucus. Back then, she was bitterly demanding a secret ballot. "It is important that the integrity of the caucus be unquestioned and above reproach," she wrote.
Miller and Solis, career politicians, have no trouble with the ethical and logical contortions required to oppose secret ballots in a country built on them. But I suspect the hobgoblins of most Americans will be wailing like banshees before the EFCA fight is over.
Under U.S. law stretching back to the 1930s, workers decide if they want to join a union by casting a secret ballot in a government-monitored election. Organized labor and its Democratic Party vassals want to change that to a so-called card check procedure; a union would simply present signed cards from more than half the affected workers, and poof! The union is in charge, no election muss or fuss.
But EFCA doesn't stop there. Once a union is certified, employers have just 130 days - a comparatively short time to put together a contract from scratch - to reach a collective bargaining agreement. If there's no deal, in comes a federal mediator: in effect, a government commissar in charge of wages and work rules.
Labor leaders say they need a new law governing elections because they're losing membership. Unionization of private-sector employees, which peaked at 35 percent in the mid-1950s, has dropped to less than a quarter of that. But the decline hasn't come because unions are losing elections - they won two-thirds of them in the first six months of 2008. Union membership is falling because unionized industries are dying, automating or fleeing overseas. That's not coincidental. When the average UAW worker makes $73 an hour in wages and benefits, when UAW contracts impose more than 5,000 pages of rules on how factories can operate, both capital and consumers migrate toward nonunion Japanese carmakers.
Union membership is falling because industries are dying, automating or fleeing overseas.
That's the bitter irony of EFCA: It won't save jobs, but destroy them. Ordinarily, when you make such radical changes in an economic model, you can only make guesses about the outcome. But in the case of EFCA, we know exactly what will happen because Canada has graciously - for us, anyway - turned its workers into lab rats to test the effects.
Most American labor law is made at the federal level. But Canadian workers are largelyregulated by the country's provincial governments, which for the past three decades have been moving back and forth between card-checks and secret-ballot elections to certify unions.
So we can say two things with certainty about EFCA: More unions will be certified, and more workers will be laid off. A study of Canada's experience unveiled last week by the international consulting company LECG says that union membership increased by as much as 20 percent when a province changed from elections to card-check.
That's pretty good news if you're a union boss, pretty bad news if you're a worker, because unemployment jumps right along with unionization, according to the study: For every three percentage-point increase in organized workers, the unemployment rate goes up one percentage point. So if the AFL-CIO prediction that EFCA will increase unionization by five percentage points is correct, 2.7 million American workers will lose their jobs.
Economist Anne Layne-Farrar, the author of the study, wasn't the least bit surprised by its results. "The people who support EFCA think most American industries are monopolies that can just cut profits when labor costs go up," she says. "But that's not true. In a global economy, most industries are in competitive situations. So when labor costs go up, they have to make adjustments somewhere else ... One possibility is layoffs. Another is just moving their factories to Mexico."
If you find that worrisome at a time when the American economy is already shedding 600,000 jobs a month, you must have a bad case of the hobgoblins.
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Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald
Glenn Garvin is a columnist for the Miami Herald
© 2009, The Miami Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services