Closer look: Card check or not

Proposed legislation of the Employee Free Choice Act faces stiff opposition among glass and glazing shop owners
Sahely Mukerji
June 1, 2009
RETAIL, FABRICATION : LEGAL, CLOSER LOOK, MANAGEMENT

The news media has been abuzz with the Employee Free Choice Act, aka, the card check bill, the last few months. As of mid-April, the legislation--that would make it easier for unions to organize workers--lacks the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. Business groups and unions are at odds regarding the bill.

In an article in The Washington Post, the president of AFL-CIO, John J. Sweeney, said “For three decades, we've valued corporate profit over people and CEO pay over people's pocketbooks. The results of this absurdity are clear: 8.5 percent unemployment (and still rising). … Our labor laws are broken, and people have lost the freedom to improve their lives through unions. … Seventy-three percent of the public supports [the bill], as do President Obama, Vice President Biden and the leadership in Congress.”

Opposition to the proposal focuses on the provisions that would make it easier for unions to organize without secret-ballot elections and a binding-arbitration measure.

“Despite unsupported claims of improving working conditions, card check is no more than a favor to union bosses looking to pad their dues-paying membership,” says Congressman Pete Sessions (Texas-32). “By stacking the deck in favor of union bosses at the expense of workers and job-creators, card check will increase unionization, giving union bosses a potential avenue to harass, coerce and deceive workers into union representation without regard to improving their working conditions.”

Below are excerpts from interviews with a few glass and glazing industry owners, most of who declined to be identified in the fear of labor retribution.

Steve Mort, CEO, Don’s Mobile Glass Inc., Modesto, Calif.: “This legislation is problematic for everybody in business. The way I understand the proposed legislation is that a union organizer can approach your employees without any notification and ask them to sign up for union representation, and if the union gets more than 50 percent to sign, then the union is in. With no secret ballot process then the employer has no opportunity to educate the employees about the issues of belonging to a union [or] the effects that unionization will have on the competitive structure of the company within its industry.

“The union issues for a small business would be very disruptive. The work rules and the inability to manage all aspects of your business could be catastrophic.”

Pete Snider, president, Alco Glass Inc., Mesquite, Texas: “If passed, the unions will immediately and aggressively seek to unionize every company with a moderate to large employee base. With the card check tactic, they will likely unionize the majority of the companies that they seek to sign up.

“This will leave the very small, independent glaziers to operate with even more of a price advantage than they already have. Those of us that run full service shops maintain a place of business --as opposed to a garage--we have workers comp and liability insurance, we provide health insurance for our employees and are subject to more taxes than those independents that fly under the radar. If we become unionized, we will lose more of our competitiveness. We will have to write off any residential and small repair work as we will not be close to the pricing of the one- and two-man shops. Our customers will have to buy from individuals with little or no responsibility as opposed to established companies that can back up what they sell with technical expertise and a meaningful warranty. Those that are unionized will not be able to hire and fire their employees at will, and this will result in a drop in productivity and quality.

“I also see the supplier side of the industry hurt, as many of our entrepreneurs go broke from the pressures of not being able to control their own companies. I see the motivation fade away from our now proud workers. They will have no need to excel in their trade; mediocrity pays the same as excellence. I also see many of our customers have to accept the increased costs and decrease of productivity that comes with unionization.”

A glazier in the Southern states: “Mass unionization would lead to substantial cost increases due to the inefficiency of union labor and the cost of unions in general. If the employees were to receive identical pay and benefits to what they receive now, the employer would still have to pay them more to cover the union dues. The additional costs would also appear in material costs because our suppliers would potentially be unionized too. The increased cost of labor in a unionized industry would be passed along to contractors and owners who would just include less glass in their buildings to fit ever tightening budgets. The effect would be limitless.

“The current American workforce no longer needs unions ... our industry does not need a paid middle man to increase costs.

“The only things unions could do--but probably wouldn’t if history repeats itself--would be to increase training for the industry employees; provide labor pools from which employers could draw employees as needed; and levelize competition for government jobs if everyone is forced to be a union shop to do the work, which the current administration is already pushing for.”

A Texas glass company owner: “[If passed,] every glass company will face the threat of government intervention. Without a secret vote, and without good faith bargaining, and without a chance to present your own case, your glass company can be told how much to pay your employees and what other mandated concessions you will be required to submit to. Jobs will go away. Companies will close. The free enterprise system itself will end.

“Glass company owners need to educate themselves and their employees, and contact their congressmen now! Seventy-four percent of union households oppose this act, and 88 percent believe that a worker's vote should remain private.”

A Nashville-based glazing company owner: “[If passed, the act will] increase the cost of building because the wage-benefit cost will increase while production slows. This, in turn, may tarnish the reputation of our industry. … If the union(s) select midsize glass shops as a target, it will raise their costs of and, possibly, put those shops out of business. This, thus, will eliminate jobs instead of providing jobs.

“I, like the great majority of America, have a poor opinion of Congress and, consequently, do not believe they are concerned about their constituents. If they get Union campaign contributions, the unions have bought their loyalty and their constituents are forgotten.”

A possible middle path

Congressional Democratic leaders, a few business executives and unions are discussing a compromise between the two extremes of passing and outright defeating the Employee Free Choice Act, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. The CEOs of Costco Wholesale Corp., Starbucks Corp. and Whole Foods Market Inc. have come up with a proposal that sidesteps some of the thornier issues but would set a fixed time period in which to hold union elections.

Lanny J. Davis, attorney, Level Playing Field Committee and special counsel to President Bill Clinton, represents the three companies. “A third way would guarantee the right of management and unions to require a secret ballot under all circumstances and permit management to initiate union decertification campaigns, and it would not include certain provisions requiring mandatory arbitration that dictates contract terms,” he says in The Post article. “But it would also guarantee a fixed time period for elections, ensure unions and management equal access to employees for campaign purposes and expedite enforcement and impose stricter penalties for serious violations of law by labor and management.”
 

E-mail Sahely Mukerji, senior editor, at smukerji@glass.org.