Once again, The Grand Rapids Press has editorialized against the Employee Free Choice Act. The act would make it easier for workers to form unions and is being supported by a broad range of labor and progressive groups.
However, a variety of right-leaning business groups are opposing the legislation, including several in West Michigan. The Grand Rapids Press–a newspaper that has historically prioritized the interests of employers over employees (see its business section on any given day for anecdotal evidence, how many stories do you see on workers?)–published its fourth editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday.
Press Editorial Rests on Debunked Arguments
The editorial is titled “Ballot privacy for workers” and it essentially offers nothing new to the debate. It applauds the fact that the legislation is now facing an uncertain future in Congress due to the recently announced opposition of Senator Arlan Specter.
The Press editorial trots out a familiar refrain among critics of the Employee Free Choice Act–that it will eliminate “the secret ballot.” The Press writes:
“The legislation would do away with an employer’s right to demand a fair, secret-ballot election when employees seek to form a union. In place of that time-tested method would be a “card check” process allowing a union to establish if more than 50 percent of employees simply signed a card — absent a private election.
The list of opponents should include anybody who values ballot box sanctity and worker privacy. Depriving employees of the right to make the significant decision about joining a union in the same way they decide who will be mayor or president of the United States would be a dramatic step backward for worker rights. Where the case for a union is strong, organizers should be able to confidently sell certification, regardless of how ballots are cast.”
This is a flawed argument that has long been debunked by supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill allows workers to form a union once a majority sign cards indicating they want to–or they can use the current voting system. The bottom line is that it is their choice. Under current labor law, employers are allowed to demand an election.
Recently, after years of saying that the Act would eliminate “the secret ballot” the business-friendly Wall Street Journal was forced to admit that the law would not eliminate the option.
A careful reading of The Grand Rapids Press‘ editorial shows the real problem that critics have–it removes the preference that current labor law gives to employers. Employers frequently spy on workers, engage in one-on-one meetings aimed at influencing union election results, and more. The “secret ballot” barely exists now and employers have been all to willing to interfere in its use.
The Press also criticizes the Employee Free Choice Act for increasing penalties aimed at employers that violate labor laws:
“Besides changing the rules on ballots, the proposed act would make several other substantial changes to labor law. Under current law, there is no deadline for first contract talks. Nor is there a requirement that if talks fail, the negotiations move to arbitration. But under the proposed law, a strict timeline would be set. Talks would have to begin 10 days after a union is formed. The sides would have 90 days to reach a deal. If no deal is reached, an arbitrator is brought in. If labor and management are still deadlocked after 30 days, the matter goes to binding arbitration to set the terms of the first two-year contract.
Also, the proposed law sets tougher fines for companies that mistreat employees involved in union activity. The law would assess triple back pay and a $20,000 fine for each infraction. Right now, companies that harass workers have to fork over back pay, offset by subsequent income, and they have to post a public apology in the workplace.”
The Grand Rapids Press is predictability silent on the fact that under current labor laws, companies can drag their heels and delay contracts for years. Similarly, The Press neglects to mention that the current penalties are too weak and that many employers fire workers attempting to organize unions as a result. We’ve seen this in Grand Rapids, with the termination of a union organizer at Starbucks.
Overall, The Grand Rapids Press has provided relatively little news coverage of the legislation and has run two columns critical of the legislation. It’s pretty clear where their interests lie…