June 1, 2009
Column | outbound

An entirely different sort of audacity

Despite strong opposition from the American people, the current administration is backing legislation that would profoundly change the way unions organize a workplace.

By Mitch Mac Donald

As with many sectors of the U.S. (and the global) economy, organized labor remains a force and a presence in the logistics profession. Although the days are long gone when the Teamsters union had enough scale and sway to essentially cripple the freight transportation industry, unions have not disappeared from the scene. For a number of freight carriers, distribution center operations, and third-party logistics service providers, dealing with unions is still part of the daily routine.

As this issue goes to press, legislation is pending in Congress that would profoundly change the way unions organize a workplace. Called, somewhat ironically, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA),the bill would prevent employers from requiring a secret ballot election when workers are deciding whether or not to form a union. Instead, the proposed legislation, which is supported by the current presidential administration, would allow labor organizers to unionize a company through a process known as majority sign up or card check. Basically, if a majority of workers sign cards authorizing a labor organization to represent them in collective bargaining, the National Labor Relations Board (the government agency that oversees union/employer relations) would be required to recognize that union as their bargaining agent.

Although our national history is rife with examples of federal government leaders (both members of Congress and the president) flouting the wishes of the people they represent, pushing through the EFCA might just set a new high (or perhaps low) in that regard. The American people overwhelmingly oppose the measure. A research report recently released by BIGresearch shows that four out of five Americans support secret ballots in union organizing elections, and that support for secret ballots is even stronger among union members. According to the study findings, 81.4 percent of those surveyed said votes on whether to join a union should be kept secret. Among non-union individuals surveyed, 81.3 percent said such votes should be kept secret, while in union households, 83.9 percent said the same. The survey was conducted in April, with survey responses from 8,667 U.S. adults.

"These numbers tell us the vast majority of Americans believe the secret ballot is a cornerstone of democracy and is just as important in a union election as it is when voters choose a president or member of Congress," said Tracy Mullin, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, the group that underwrote the research study, in a prepared statement. "What's especially revealing is that union members hold that belief even more strongly than people who don't belong to a union. Union leadership might want to do away with the secret ballot, but rank-and-file workers want their votes kept private."

Mullin rightfully points out that replacing the secret ballot with a process by which "a union can be formed simply by signing membership cards" would subject workers to intimidation and coercion on an unprecedented scale. "The only way to guarantee workers a truly free choice on whether to join a union is to continue letting them make that decision in a voting booth and not with someone looking over their shoulders to see whether they sign a union card," she said in the statement.

Mullin's point is not only well taken; it is fundamentally sound. It is very difficult to imagine how members of Congress and the president can consider showing such disregard for the will of the citizens they serve. This is clearly not the type of "audacity" 52 percent of Americans were counting on when they cast their ballots last November.

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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