March 01, 2007

Compromise Measures

The House is getting ready to pass the Employee Free Choice Act today. Ezra Klein notes that the choice here is between the current NLRB-certified "secret ballot" elections--in which employers have ample time to intimidate workers into voting against unionization--and card-check elections, in which organizers could, theoretically, coerce their co-workers into signing the cards, though this happens far, far less frequently. Neither is a perfect system, but card-check features less in the way of coercion. (It was also a common certification method back in the 1930s, before the Taft-Hartley Act forced unions to hold elections.)

Now, Ezra says "I'd be perfectly happy with a grand compromise that fully leveled the NLRB process while preserving the secret ballot." Obviously businesses aren't interested in striking a deal. But as it happens, such a "compromise" does exist. In 1995, Ontario replaced card-check certification with elections that must take place within five days--rather than the drawn-out union campaign seasons that take place in the United States. That gives employers somewhat less time to make threats, hold employees in captive meetings where they rail against unions, fire organizers, etc.

But does it work? Sara Slinn studied the effects of the rule change and found that the union success rate went down considerably after mandatory elections came into effect. In particular, there was a decline in certification in the service sector and among part-time employees, suggesting that "the mandatory vote has had a disparately negative impact on more vulnerable employees." And overall, the certification rate in Ontario seems to have reached U.S. levels in recent years, suggesting that employers are getting increasingly good at manipulating and winning even "expedited" elections, and the compromise isn't really a good substitute for card check.
-- Brad Plumer 12:35 PM || ||