Card Check Q&A

NAW’s Jade West dissects the Employee Free Choice Act.

One of the most talked-about pieces of legislation to impact the business world in a long time was recently introduced in Congress. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), more commonly known as Card Check, would make it easier for unions to form and would give employers fewer protections from their employees to do so. Welding & Gases Today sat down with Jade West, senior vice president of government relations for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAW) and executive director of NAW’s political action committee, to learn more about how this legislation could impact GAWDA members.

Welding & Gases Today: Let’s start with a quick overview of what the legislation says.

Jade West, NAW Senior Vice President: Government Relations
“Only 7.6 percent of employees in the private sector workforce are unionized. The ultimate objective of this bill is to counteract union membership that has been on the decline in the United States for decades.”

- Jade West, NAW Senior Vice
President: Government Relations

Jade West: Under current law, if a union wants to organize workers in a workplace, it tries to get workers’ signatures on a card saying they wish to be represented by a union. If the union obtains signatures from 30 percent of the workers in that workplace, the union can ask the employer to be certified as a collective bargaining agent with no further action needed on the part of the workers. The employer can, and almost always does, say no. If the union gets 50 percent plus one of the signatures on those cards, the union can ask for recognition, and the employer has the right to force the union into a secret ballot campaign on that certification issue.

W&GT: What do you mean by secret ballot?

West: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) runs very structured secret ballot campaigns complete with voting booths. These elections take several weeks to set up, during which the unions and the employers are able to campaign, within the confines of NLRB restrictions. Then the vote takes place.

W&GT: How do those typically turn out?

West: The stats vary, but the union wins about 50 to 60 percent of those certification elections. However, there are instances where the union has obtained cards from more than 60 percent of the workers in a workplace, and the union still loses the election. This suggests that the card is not a reliable means of indicating a desire to be represented by a union.

W&GT: How would EFCA change that process?

West: Under EFCA, if the union obtains signatures on authorization cards of 50 percent plus one of the workers in a workplace, they are now the new collective bargaining agent for that workforce. There is no election.

W&GT: That’s quite a significant change.

West: Under the technical aspects of the law, the employees could still ask for a secret ballot, but for all practical purposes, a secret ballot is gone because most of them won’t know how to do that. The union will automatically become the collective bargaining agent upon the collection of 50 percent plus one workers’ signatures.

W&GT: What, specifically, does that change mean for employers?

West: Small businesses are the prime targets of this effort. When a union is trying to organize a relatively small workplace, they will conduct a stealth organizing campaign. The employer does not often know that the organization effort is taking place, and the smaller the workplace, the more vulnerable the employer is. The unions will organize very quickly and quietly, and if they get the signatures of 50 percent plus one of the employees in that workplace, they show up at the employer’s office on Monday morning and they are a certified collective bargaining agent. Even if they don’t, they can take the cards of each of the different job titles in that workforce, and if they have 50 percent plus one signatures of, for example, the delivery drivers, they will approach the employer and say, “Your drivers are now unionized.” This is a known tactic, and the employer, by virtue of the elimination of the secret ballot option, would be denied any opportunity to talk with his or her employees about what the union representation would mean.

W&GT: Why is that a bad thing?

West: The employers have no opportunity to rebut any union claims, and the unions are known to somewhat exaggerate what they can deliver to the employees. Plus, the certification is automatic if more than 50 percent sign the card, irrespective of whether or not the employees knew what they were signing.

Read More Online
On March 26, quick passage of ECFA was dealt a blow when Senator Arlen Specter voted no for cloture, meaning the bill will not make it to the Senate floor for debate. This was good news for opponents of the bill, but the issue has not gone away by any means. A number of potential compromises were quickly proposed, meaning that a similar bill likely will be heard again. As Senator Specter noted, “Card check will come back. It will be reconsidered.” You can read an e-mail from Jade West to NAW members following Specter’s announcement online in Welding & Gases Today at www.WeldingandGasesToday.org.

W&GT: Are there any other provisions included in the bill?

West: If a card check campaign is successful, it puts a 120-day deadline in place for the employer and the union to develop the first collective bargaining contract. That deadline does not exist in law today; as long as both sides are negotiating in good faith, there’s no deadline to reach an agreement. Also, under the EFCA, if the employer and the union have not come to terms on a first contract, the union has the right to refer the negotiation to binding interest arbitration, in which a federally appointed arbitrator is brought in to decide the terms of the agreement. The result cannot by appealed by either side and is binding on the employer for two years. There is some other language in the bill that impacts other things, but that’s primarily the bill.

W&GT: Are there any specific implications for GAWDA members in the bill?

West: The provisions are not industry-specific, but the industry segments that are targeted for organization by organized labor today are typically industries that cannot export jobs. That makes distribution a target of organized labor groups because most distributors simply cannot move their jobs. If you’re moving a product in the supply chain, you can’t do that from a remote setting. So distribution, which would include GAWDA members, is impacted from that level.

W&GT: What are the advantages for employers in this bill?

West: There are none. I’m normally not so firm on that, but employers are not advantaged by a card check campaign unless they wish to allow a union anyway. They already have the ability to recognize a union if they want to, so there’s no new advantage to employers.

W&GT: What can employers do?

West: We encourage employers to continue to write their representatives in Congress. The response NAW has gotten from its membership is probably the most overwhelming we’ve gotten to any issue in the six years I’ve been here. It’s a very important issue. Employers should not miss this chance to make their voices heard!

Gases and Welding Distributors Association