Friday, March 02, 2007

Bob Reich Has A Blog

In the wake of the House's vote on the fraudulently-misnomered "Employee Free Choice Act," I came across Bob Reich's blog. You'll recall Reich as the bearded, diminutive Secretary of [Organized] Labor in the first Clinton Administration.

Oh, how do I respond to thee? Let me count the ways.

Here's what Reich had to say, with a few rejoinders thrown in:
You’d think that more than seventy years after the right to form a union was enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act, workers could have a union if a majority wanted one.

[You'd also think that, after a number of wars to protect freedom, all American workers would have the right to refuse to join or pay dues to a union if they didn't want to.]

Think again. Under current law, a majority vote isn’t nearly enough. Even if one hundred percent of workers want a union, employers can still stop them by demanding that the simple vote be followed by a complex process ending in a secret ballot – a process so long and drawn out that some employers use the time to fire union organizers and threaten others. End of story.

[Sure, NLRB processes are "long and drawn out." Perhaps Bob can write an article about the "long and drawn out" proceedings to enforce rights under Communications Workers of America v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735 (1988). Cases under the Clinton NLRB were delayed for seven years or more. The District of Columbia Circuit recently ordered a rare mandamus order requiring the Board to issue a decision in one of those cases which was delayed by the Clintonistas, and then delayed again by the Bush Board.]

This week, the House votes on a bill that would allow a majority of workers to sign up for a union and get one. Odds are the bill will make it through the House but get stuck in the Senate, where sixty votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. Bush has already said he'd veto it in any event. But the vote is important nonetheless. It will put members of Congress on record, and voters will be reminded in 2008 who voted for and against. (I and others in the Clinton administration and congressional Dems tried to get the labor laws reformed in the mid-1990s, but Gingrich and company wouldn't even allow a floor vote.)

[No, this week the House voted on a bill to allow union bosses to coerce workers into granting them a monopoly of representation. And BTW, trying to kill employers' rights to hire permanent replacements for striking workers --- putting a union to its economic proofs as to the reasonableness of its economic demands --- is not "reform." And when you tried to bar federal contractors from using them by Executive Order, your effort was rejected as illegal by the D.C. Circuit.]

Employer groups are lobbying furiously against the bill. They prefer the current long, drawn out process that gives employers time to use threats and coercion to prevent unionization. Such strong-arm tactics are illegal but the penalty for getting caught is a slap on the wrist. Charges of illegal dismissals take years to wind their way through the National Labor Relations Board and even when the Board finds that an employer acted illegally, the worst that can happen is the worker has to be rehired and given back pay that was lost. In 2005 alone, over 30,000 American workers were awarded back pay because their employers were found to have illegally fired or otherwise discriminated against them for their union activities.

[Just like unions prefer "the current long, drawn out process." To be sure, on those few occasions when they occur, employer "strong-arm tactics are illegal but the penalty for getting caught is a slap on the wrist." Of course, on those far more frequent occasions when unions ignore employees' rights under Beck, their "strong-arm tactics are illegal but the penalty for getting caught is a slap on the wrist." Better that they not be told at all. Didn't you have a part in rescinding an Executive Order requiring Federal contractors to tell employees about those rights?]

A half century ago, most employers obeyed the law and allowed workers to organize. In the 1950s, the National Labor Relations Board found illegal dismissals in only one of every 20 union elections. But in subsequent decades, competition heated up, investors demanded higher returns, employers felt increasing pressure to cut wages, and union-busting became the name of the game. By the early 1990s, according to government data, illegal dismissals occurred in one out of every four union elections. Nowadays, even though polls show most workers would organize a union if they could, the process is so complicated that it’s rare they even get to choose.

[Polls also show most workers believe that no one should be forced to join or pay dues to a union if they don't want to, as well. When will you be getting on that band wagon, Bob?]

Employers say a simple up-or-down vote, such as featured in the House bill, would allow pro-union workers to intimidate their co-workers. They argue for the more elaborate secret ballot. They say a secret ballot is essential to democracy. But they’ve got it wrong. Workplaces aren’t democracies. Employers have the power to hire and fire – and this is exactly where the potential for intimidation lies. The only way around it is to go with a simple up-or-down vote.

[Nothing in the House bill is about "a simple up-or-down vote"; it's about allowing unions to visit employees' homes and intimidate and/or lie to them in order to get them to sign a union card (I've had cases where a union steward has said that signing a card was simply to "get more information on the union").]

America’s rising economic tide has been lifting executive yachts but leaving most working people in leaky boats. Workers need more bargaining power. They should be allowed to form a union when a majority of them wants one – as simple as that.
And sometimes, those union bosses just have to "strap workers to the mast," don't they, Bob? Without regard to whether they're sinking the ship (think "Eastern Airlines").

Reich will keep advancing the talking points, but this wasn't about protecting worker rights to join a union; it was singularly about protecting a source of Democrat campaign workers funded by forced dues. The problem (for Democrats isn't a lack of worker freedom; it's HOW workers are exercising their freedom to reject unionization.

Most of the civilized world has recognized that a secret ballot is necessary to ensure democratic freedom. Most, that is, except America's Democrat Party. So instead of apocryphal employer "threats and coercion to prevent unionization," we'll have union "threats and coercion to [promote] unionization."


Anonymous said...

Do you really think that the emplyee free choice act is any more mis-named that the right to work act?

James Young said...

"Right to Work" misnamed? Hardly. It certainly is more succinct than "Right to Work Without Paying Tribute To a Union Boss" Act.

"Employee Free Choice Act" misnamed? Absolutely, on the premise that the choice cannot, by hypothesis, be "free" if it cannot be expressed in a secret-ballot election.

The difference is that the former would expand the rights of individual employees, whereas the latter would diminish them. That may not make sense to those who think in terms of "group" rights --- an oxymoron if ever there was one --- but to the majority of Americans who support the Right to Work, it is easily understandable.

BTW, how many Democrat candidates campaigned on the promise to deny to employees their right to a secret-ballot election? My guess would be few, if any.

But thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

Robert Reich is a gay midget.

James Young said...

Anon, that is utterly unfair, and is the kind of thing that makes me despise anonymous comments, and gives the blogosphere a bad name. It is no more fair than Ann Coulter's silly suggestion that John Edwards is a homosexual (though he is as worthless as a small bundle of sticks). My understanding is that Reich is married, and has two sons. And while diminutive, he is not a "midget."