Jonathan Chait

The Standard vs. Majority Rule Elections

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This Weekly Standard screed about the Obama administration's pro-labor policies has a pretty hilarious juxtaposition:

While the president has failed to enact the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)the mother of all pro-union legislation which includes the infamous “card check” proposal to effectively eliminate the secret ballot from union electionshe has made it possible for labor leaders to implement EFCA provisions by other means. Through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), for instance. The NLRB conducts union elections and remedies unfair labor practices in most industries; Obama has named two pro-union members to this bodyboth were radical enough to require recess appointments. Stewart Acuff of the Utility Workers Union of America vowed to the Huffington Post that even if EFCA does not pass, labor leaders will work with the president’s NLRB appointees “to change the rules governing forming a union through administrative action.” The board is now considering use of remote online voting rather than in-person ballots in representation elections, which like card check could expose workers to undue influence from organizers.

An Obama appointee to the National Mediation Board, which coordinates railroad and airline labor-management relations, precipitated a rule change in May to allow approval of union representation by a majority of those voting, rather than a majority of a company’s entire workforce as in the past. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that the new rule violates the Railway Labor Act, which was designed to prevent a few disgruntled employees from triggering a strike that could cripple commerce throughout the country.

Okay, so the first paragraph is about the sacred right of workers to hold union elections free of any unfair influence. (The Standard takes this right so seriously that it even objects to online voting -- because union organizers might be in the room with the voter. They could break in! -- without considering that the same principle would seem to disqualify mail-in balloting.)

Then the very next paragraph is about how awful it is that the Obama administration is now letting workers form a union by majority vote. The rationale here, taken from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is that majority vote would allow "a few disgruntled employees" to form a union, and thereby to strike, and thus "cripple commerce throughout the country." Really, though. If the handful of disgruntled employees manage to win an election (by secret ballot majority vote) to form a union, couldn't the non-disgruntled employees subsequently vote to decertify the union? And is it really still true that a railroad strike would cripple commerce throughout the country? I'd like to see the Standard try to bolster these claims rather than simply parrot whatever talking points the Chamber of Commerce feeds it. Or perhaps, rather than relying on patently disingenuous rationales, just admit that their real position is that they oppose unions and favor any measures at all that make it harder for workers to form them.

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