Economist: One in Five Union Organizers Gets Canned

By
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at 10:01 am
Economist Dean Baker of CEPR speaking at the National Press Club, Tuesday.

Economist Dean Baker of CEPR speaking at the National Press Club, Tuesday.

One in five union activists gets illegally fired in the run-up to unionization elections, economist Dean Baker said at an event held at the National Press Club, Tuesday. Baker’s estimate is based on data compiled by the National Labor Relations Board and analyzed by Baker’s colleagues at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) — a liberal economic policy think tank in Washington.

The statistic is central to the progressive case for the Employee Free Choice Act, proposed legislation that would allow workers to bypass formal unionization elections in favor of an informal signup process known as a card check. Big business lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce oppose the EFCA because the law would make union organizing much easier. But instead of arguing that less unionization is better, EFCA opponents claim that card check is undemocratic because it could mean workers can unionize without a secret ballot.

Baker argues that his statistic suggests that mandatory elections for contested unionization drives stifle workers’ democratic right to organize.  According to Baker, employer harassment and retaliation are major and often under-recognized obstacles to unionization. He sees the EFCA as a way to equalize the power imbalance between labor and management so that workers can decide for themselves whether they want to organize.

A provision in the bill would allow workers to form a union without going through a formal National Labor Relations Board election. Instead, under a so-called card check system, workers sign cards to indicate that they want to unionize. If a majority signs up, the union is on its way to official recognition. Card check is already a legal way to form a union as long as the employer accepts the results and agrees to recognize the union. Often employers demand an NLRB election in the face of a card check majority to buy time to change workers’ minds.

Under the the NLRB election system, between the time an election is announced and the day of the vote, employees are vulnerable to coercion by management, Baker says. There’s a fundamental power imbalance: Bosses can fire organizers, but organizers can’t fire the bosses.

“There’s a tendency to dismiss [harassment, but] one in five organizers ends up getting fired, according to the NLRB,” Baker said on Tuesday.

In a follow-up email, Baker explained that the one in five figure came from CERP’s analysis of NLRB data, using an influential methodology developed by two scholars at the University of Chicago who used these methods to challenge claims of widespread intimidation of workers by management. The estimate uses data on the number of workers who were reinstated after the NLRB determined that they had been illegally fired. Just over half of all illegal terminations took place during a unionization drive. CEPR and the Chicago scholars assumed that only pro-union workers would be singled out for illegal termination during a union drive. We know how many pro-union workers there were in any given shop based on the published results of the election. The CEPR team further posited that organizers and activists, a small subset of overall workers, are more likely to be fired than less vocal pro-union workers. When the CEPR team crunched the numbers for 2005, they estimated that 15-20% of the union organizers involved in these drives were illegally terminated.

Baker argues that this level of risk is chilling unionization. Workers who want to be in a union are afraid to speak out, he says. The EFCA card check provision would protect workers’ ability to freely choose whether they want a union, he maintains.

Arguments like these are powerful ammunition for progressives in their impending fight over the EFCA. If NLRB elections are systematically plagued by intimidation and power imbalances between labor and management, it is difficult to argue that they are democratic.

Comments

23 Comments

Pat
Comment posted January 14, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

Dean Baker is just WRONG !!!!! Management may well put pressure on employees to say NO to a union organizing effort — but that is just the “counter-balance” to the union's pressure put on the same workers that is placed upon them by “paid” union organizers. Mr. Baker singles out the “employee” organizers to make his point — but the real point is that the union organizers (in the employ of the union itself) are the real problem. Further, he takes not the time to mention the second most (or, perhaps the first most) onerous part of EFCA: the forced binding arbitration provision. That little piece of law would take away another “right” that even already organized members of unions enjoy: the right to vote on the terms and conditions of THEIR contract if some government appointed guru makes the final decisions about provisions in the agreement.

Mr. Baker needs to just re-examine his own terminology — “protect workers' ability to freely choose.” I have participated in many an NLRB election. I have never advised company leadership to pressure employees. But I have observed many a pressuring from paid union organizers and the employees of a company that support the union's efforts to “get in.” Management MUST get the full story to employees prior to a vote so then a real “free choice” can be made by the voters. Perhaps Mr. Baker would like us to elect a President on a “signature campaign” and just discard the whole process of hearing both sides of the story for the most important job in the world?


EFCA NOW
Comment posted January 14, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

Another Reason Why We Need The EFCA NOW!

Starbucks plans to settle another labor complaint one more reason why we need the EFCA NOW

Melissa Allison Seattle Times business reporter

Starbucks has reached a settlement in principle over a Michigan barista whom the National Labor Relations Board said was fired in June because of his union activities.

An administrative trial that was scheduled for today has been canceled, and the agreement is expected to be signed this week, said Chet Byerly, resident officer for the NLRB in Grand Rapids. He would not disclose details of the proposed agreement.

A Starbucks spokeswoman confirmed that it is working on a settlement.

It is the third time in a month that Starbucks has faced action from the NLRB regarding the Industrial Workers of the World union.

Last month, an NLRB administrative law judge found that Starbucks took part in unfair labor practices at several of its New York cafes.

Last week, the Seattle chain settled a separate NLRB dispute in Michigan.

All three cases were initiated by baristas affiliated with the IWW, a century-old union that has worked for several years to improve conditions for Starbucks workers.

In New York last month, an NLRB judge ordered Starbucks to give back jobs to three former workers and compensate them for lost earnings. The company also must post notices informing employees of their labor-organizing rights.

Starbucks plans to appeal the ruling, according to spokeswoman Tara Darrow.

Such appeals often take a year and might last longer now that the NLRB's board has lost three of its five members, said University of Tennessee law professor Jeff Hirsch, a former attorney at the NLRB.

Last week's settlement stemmed from a complaint that barista and IWW member Cole Dorsey made to the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration about a leaky air conditioner.

In interviewing at least one Starbucks worker about the matter, attorneys at a local law firm representing Starbucks neglected to issue legally required warnings that help prevent coercive questioning.

“We contend that these warnings are not necessary when dealing with an occupational safety charge. The NLRB disagreed,” Darrow said in an e-mail. “We elected to settle the matter to avoid litigation.”

Starbucks did not admit wrongdoing but must post a notice in the affected store in Grand Rapids “saying they won't do it again,” said NLRB Regional Director Stephen Glasser.

Dorsey, the barista who complained about the air conditioner, was fired in June after working for Starbucks almost two years. The NLRB charges that he was dismissed because of his union activities.

He was fired eight months after Starbucks and the IWW settled an agreement over unionizing efforts by employees at his Grand Rapids store. At that time, Starbucks agreed to post notices in that store advising employees of their unionizing rights.

Such settlements never come with fines and rarely with admissions of wrongdoing. The Employee Free Choice Act, which stalled in the last session of Congress, would allow the NLRB to order fines in some situations, according to former NLRB attorney Hirsch. The bill faces strong opposition from the business community.

In October, Starbucks settled a similar complaint in Minneapolis regarding another employee who claimed he was fired for encouraging co-workers to join the IWW.

By Poster: This is one more reason why we need the Employee Free Choice Act Now!

For More Information on EFCA please visit our website and blog

http://www.employeefreechoiceactnow.org

http://efcanow.blogspot.com/


Lindsay Beyerstein
Comment posted January 14, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

Pat, give me a break, union organizers don't have anywhere near the power to pressure workers that employers do. They're outsiders, operating on the workers' turf, with their permission. They can't fire anyone of discipline them. The worst they can do is a hard sell. It's in no way comparable.

Card check is already a legal way to form a union. However, management currently has a veto over card checks in the form of a mandatory NLRB election. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would have the option of requesting an NLRB election, but management couldn't demand one. If workers want an NLRB vote, they can ask for one through the same type of signup procedure that currently gets the NLRB ball rolling.


Joe T. Plumber
Comment posted January 15, 2009 @ 7:55 am

If voters in the recent Presidential election had been called into one-on-one meetings to tell them how to vote, if their jobs had been threatened if the vote went the “wrong way,” if many were fired for campaigning or even expressing their peference, if opposition party organizers were not given the names of voters and highly restricted in their ability to contact them — we'd hardly call that a free and fair election, even if there was a secret ballot.


IRA VALFER
Comment posted January 15, 2009 @ 8:28 am

I believe that “influential methodology” is an improper phrase in this case. It should be “inferrential methodology”.

Based on the explanation states that the researchers “assumed”


Inspector Gravis
Comment posted January 16, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

Absolutely NO credible statistical analysis of a robust data set exists to substantiate statements made above or in the babble of the “academics/scholars”. Whether Bronfenbrenner or Laffer or Hilarious, citing to faulty “research” based on limited and faulty data proves nothing. Please stop the press.


Tuesdays Are EFCA Update Days « The Ohio Labor Lawyers
Pingback posted January 20, 2009 @ 1:00 am

[...] in five union activists gets illegally fired in the run-up to unionization elections, and EFCA is a way to equalize the power imbalance between labor and management so that workers can [...]


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PoliTrix » Blog Archive » Bruce Raynor: What your boss won’t tell you
Pingback posted March 11, 2009 @ 7:43 pm

[...] most secret ballot elections, employers regularly coerce workers to vote against the union. In 25 percent of all campaigns, employers illegally fire pro-union workers. Employers delay the election date in order to buy time for outside “consultants” to [...]


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