McGovern vs. Card Check

McGovern vs. Card Check August 11, 2008

Former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, George McGovern, has in recent years become something of a liberty loving fellow. In his most recent column, he writes about the so-called “card check” legislation currently pending in Congress that would do away with secret ballots for union elections:

As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.

The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

More. My own views on this matter are somewhat more radical (or, in the views of some, reactionary). I see no reason why if workers want to form a union, they should have to convince 50% of their fellow workers to go along. Where two or three are gathered together to organize, there you should have a union. Nor should there be any limits on the ability of unions to strike, to negotiate for preferential benefits for its members (up to and including closed shop agreements with employers), or to restrict membership in a union however they might wish. If different workers for a given employer belong to different unions (as is the case, I believe, in France), that’s fine with me. If workers and employers want to form an association together to work out their differences (a so-called “company union” common in places such as Japan) that’s fine with me too. On the other hand, if an employer or worker chooses not to associate with a given union, or with any union at all, they should be free to do so.

That, however, is not the situation we have, nor is it likely to arise in the foreseeable future. And as long as the rule is that unionization is an all-or-nothing affair, requiring secret ballot elections seems like a fairly good idea.

(HT: DarwinCatholic)

"If I am only now scaring you, I need to bring my A game. :-)"

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  • I like how McGovern glosses over Mexico and Central America with an ideological point: “workers in developing countries such as Mexico insist on the secret ballot when voting as to whether or not their workplaces should have a union.” What bothers me the most about the prose though is that it acts as if there are two interrests, union and nonunion. The two real interests are management and labor.

  • Morning’s Minion

    You are looking at this through the individualist rather than the corporatist lens. To put it bluntly, it’s not about the individual, its about workers gaining sufficient bargaining against powerful employers– that goes all the way back to Leo XIII.

  • blackadderiv

    The Church’s support for unions is based on the natural right of association (see Centesimus Annus 7), a right that is significantly limited by current labor law.

  • jh

    I ma puzzled why the Unions are so pushing this. THis seems like very bad PR and overreaching

  • Unions have been unable to penetrate many large organizations and when they have done so have seen massive retaliatory measures. Wal-Mart for instance fired its meatpackers and ended meatpacking when they unionized. Whatever the costs in PR, having men represented is a bigger priority. Additionally, despite what McGovern says, the card system is fair, decent, and good.

  • jh


    I am supposing even if one thinks more UNION penetration is a good thing why the privacy of the ballot should be sacrificed for that? I guess that is what I am having trouble understanding.

    What is wrong with the old system?

  • I’ve been warned in the past that I am not capable of discussing unions rationally for any protracted lengths of time (and have similar suspicions in regards to some of those on the “other side”) so I shall limit myself to one comment:

    What bothers me the most about the prose though is that it acts as if there are two interrests, union and nonunion. The two real interests are management and labor.

    So, do workers who actively do not want to belong to a union at all, or to the particular union in question, simply not have a valid viewpoint worthy of being registered, or are they de-facto management?

    Whatever the costs in PR, having men represented is a bigger priority. Additionally, despite what McGovern says, the card system is fair, decent, and good.

    Because no one could for a minute imagine that an institution such as a labor union would stoop to intimidation, harassment or fraud to get a few thousand more people “into the fold” where they have to pay mandatory dues…

    It would seem to me that one of the elements of an election that tends to make it free and fair is not only its secrecy, but that it takes place at one time. I would assume that if I had a union rep following me around for weeks or months badgering me to sign, and I told him “no” a couple dozen times, but just once gave in and signed, it would be that single “yes” not the multiple “no”s that counted. And similarly, if after he had managed to get a signature out of me, I changed my mind, I imagine that it would be rather difficult to get my name back off the list of those who had “voted”.

    The advantage of an election is that it takes place just once, you can’t keep badgering until you get what you want.

    That said, it’s not like unions have proved themselves unable to pull off a bit of election fraud either.

    I must admit a certain curiosity: I know that MZ and MM both feel very passionately about unions. Do either of you actually belong to one?

    I’m just curious if this is a preference based on experience or on overall political alignment. Myself I have never belonged to a union, nor has my wife (back when she was working). My wife might well have joined the stage hands union back when we were first married, but their policies were such that you usually couldn’t join unless you worked as an unpaid intern at a union theater for several months first — and since we were chronically short of money she worked at non-union theaters instead so that she could actually be paid for her work. My father did join a public employees union in order to keep from being fired, though, after the community college at which he worked unionized in what was pretty clearly a rigged election.

  • I am management/quasi-management and do not work in an industry with unions.

  • Kurt

    My own views on this matter are somewhat more radical …

    That mostly matches an offer made many years ago by Lane Kirkland to corporate America — let’s repeal all labor law and just fight it out on the streets. Brother Lane is now is heaven with Jesus and Mary, but best I know, the offer still stands. No takers so far from the management side.

    Wal-Mart has now confessed that the status quo gives management a voice in determining if their workers can choose a union, an admission that the current system is broken. I know the Hollywood stereotype of the “union goon” (which belongs in the same league as the blackface minstrel) but it seems a hard case to make that employees can’t say no to a colleague and peer at work asking them to sign a petition, but are not intimidated by their boss.

    Given that Brother Lane’s offer has not been accepted by management, I’ll suggest a counter offer — we conduct union business under the same rules that stockholder business is conducted. Please get back to me at your earliest convenience.

  • What Kurt said 🙂