The United Food and Commercial Workers, the chief union representing organized workforces in the meat and poultry industry, could borrow a phrase from Mark Twain to describe UFCW’s current assessment of labor law negotiation in Washington, D.C.: Reports of card-check’s death are highly exaggerated.
"The media coverage so far about how majority sign-up is dead has all been conjecture," UFWC spokeswoman Jill Cashen told MEATPOULTRY.com. "There’s nothing that’s been taken off the table. In fact, we’re still actively lobbying for it."
Majority sign-up, or card-check, is the controversial proposal, embodied in the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees to vote for representation by a union not by secret ballot but by signing a card. The Associated Press reported this week that union lobbyists agreed to drop card-check from the Act "in a bid to win over wavering Senate Democrats." These Democrats, who include Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Dianne Feinstein of California, "have faced enormous pressure from business groups vehemently opposed to [card-check]," the AP reported.
Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has described the battle with organized labor over card-check as a "firestorm bordering on Armageddon." The American Meat Institute has also made the defeat of the Employee Free Choice Act a priority. According to spokesman Dave Ray,
"In addition to possibly being pressured into signing cards, the identity of workers who signed (or refused to sign), the ‘check cards’ would be made public. While we are an industry in which the overwhelming majority of our employees belong to a union, we firmly believe in their individual and private right to make that choice."
UFCW counters that the legislation would level the playing field in union elections. In past secret-ballot campaigns, the union claims, "employers have forced employees to sit through one-sided anti-union presentations in captive audience meetings and closed-door one-on-one meetings. Employers make illegal threats of plant closures, threaten to discharge workers, and often do fire them. Often a company will spend thousands of dollars on consultants, whose purpose is to intimidate employees to prevent them from exercising their right to organize." UFCW says current law "offers little redress because the remedies are so weak."
Organized labor believes the current Congress, which is the most pro-labor in decades, and the generally pro-labor Obama Administration, create the best opportunity for new pro-union legislation to be passed. With Republicans in strong opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, the Democrats hold a 60-seat majority in the 100-member Senate and a 256-seat majority in the 435-member House of Representatives.
However, for labor reform to gain the support of so-called "Blue Dog," or conservative, Democrats, the original card-check proposal may be revised to offer binding arbitration within 120 days if a new union and management can’t agree on a first contract, according to reports, and would stiffen penalties on businesses that threaten or intimidate workers trying to form a union.
"We shouldn’t have a system where people are forced to choose loyalties," commented Cashen to MEATPOULTRY.com. "We don’t want people to hate where they work or their jobs or employers. We want them to be able to have their say."