State Democrats are again trying to eliminate the secret-ballot vote for union certification. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg describes his latest measure as the alternative electoral method for choosing collective bargaining representatives. It is that, and a lot more.
Under card check, instead of voting for or against union representation by secret ballot, workers would be asked to sign union cards in front of organizers and colleagues, potentially subjecting them to harassment or intimidation. Once a majority of employees has signed cards, the union is immediately recognized.
Opponents charge that SB -104, Steinbergs new bill, not only drops the right to a secret ballot but unfairly penalizes employers for potential violations during union organizing. And opponents are critical that unions are not penalized under this bill for the same type of potential violations during organizing.
The Steinberg bill has the support of more than 20 unions and labor organizations, including the California Labor Federation, the Teamsters, the United Nurses Association and the AFL-CIO. Opposition to the bill has come primarily from farm and agricultural growers associations.
At a recent hearing of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League said, The characterization of this bill as an alternative to the secret ballot is an illusion. Bedwell said the bill unfairly imposes hefty penalties against employers for potential intimidation, but has no mention in it about intimidation from the unions. Bedwell described passage of the bill as a wholesale license for union intimidation.
Another opponent is the California Farm Bureau which represents 75,000 farm families. Farm Bureau representative Bill Little said that under SB 104, card check can be used to certify an election, but not to decertify. We prefer a remedy with a supervised, secret ballot election, he said.
Another disturbing aspect of the bill is that an employees card can be signed up to one year before actually being used in a union election, nor is proof of employment required a decision upheld by the ALRB.
Former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, a liberal Democrat, calls card check, a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor. The Canadian experience suggests he has a point. The provinces of Ontario and British Columbia eliminated secret-ballot voting and introduced card check. Both provinces reinstated secret-ballot voting for union certification, which helped reverse economic losses and restore a sense of balance to labor relations.
Steinbergs latest attempt at card-check legislation has similar language to several previous bills, one authored several years ago by former Sen. Carol Migden (SB 180). Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed Migdens bill. Current governor Jerry Brown is backed by unions and during the recent campaign said he was very proud to have conferred collective bargaining rights on state employees during his first run as governor (1975-1983).
Card-check promoters have good reason to be confident that Governor Brown would not veto Steinbergs bill. Legislators should first consider whether its a good idea for California to bid farewell to the secret-ballot vote for union certification.