Last week, Democratic Congressman George Miller (D-CA) introduced, along with 233 co-sponsors, a bill that he has called the “Free Choice Act.” [H.R. 800 - pdf | html] Unfortunately, the bill serves only to limit the free choice of employees.
The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act, to “streamline” the process for certifying a union as the official bargaining representative of a group of employees. Currently, the Act provides a very fair and time-tested procedure for secret ballot elections that are conducted by the NLRB. During a union organizing campaign, both the union and the employer are able to communicate their views about unionization, and the exchange of competing ideas, coupled with the secret ballot election, gives employees the ability to make a free choice of whether or not to organize.
The proposed amendment, however, would require an employer to recognize a union without any such secret election, and without even an organizing campaign known to the employer. According to the bill, the union simply should be permitted to show that it has obtained signed authorization cards from a majority of the employees. If the union can show that, the NLRB would be required to certify the union as the duly elected bargaining agent, even without an election.
Since most of the times that union spend gathering these authorization cards are without the knowledge of the employer, many employees will be without the benefit of knowing the employer’s thoughts about unionization. Only to big labor can a process that is one sided, not secret, and susceptible to intimidation and coercion considered “free” as compared to an open debate followed by a secret ballot.
The bill has been introduced before, but always has failed. This time, organized labor has made this bill a big priority, and the recent legislative gains by the democratic party may make the passage of this bill more likely this time. I’ll keep an eye on it, and let you know how it is progressing.