Diary

Card Check is bad, but so is current process

I used to be employed by a union and before that I lead a union organizing drive at a department store. I’m against card check, but the current NLRB process for elections tilts the process to the employer’s advantage. 

I hope I can present a balanced perspective why Card Check is a horrible idea. But first, a little bit about my background that influenced this opinion. 

When I was 19 I worked for a department store on a loading dock. It was hard work. I worked for minimum wage, and it was my first job, and I didn’t expect to start at the top either. My Dad, a blue collar worker himself, never encouraged me to go to college, but he did teach me that no matter what job I had, I should work as hard as I could to be the best employee I could, because hard work is the way to succeed. I saw that that worked for him, I believed him (and still do), and hence gave it my all at work.

But then something petty occurred. My supervisor didn’t like the idea that we sat down at a desk to write up the waybills after unloading a truck, so he removed the chairs from the dock area and installed high tables, requiring us to stand to write up the paperwork.   So myself and a three of my co-workers met with a union and asked what had to happen to get union representation. 

And so it began.

We signed up many fellow employees. We got over half of them to sign intent cards. No intimidation occurred, and in fact many would not sign up for fear of losing their jobs, but still expressed support.  If card check was law then, that would be the end and the union would be certified. 

Then the real fun began.

  • The employer dragged it out in NLRB court for almost a year, arguing about who should or should not be in the vote. They also asserted that another store 15 miles away should be included in the vote because they operated as one unit. A shaky argument. The attempt was to dilute the pool, and they won that argument.
  • Most employees got minimum wage, back then $2.30 an hour. Raises back then were either 5, 10, or 15 cents an hour. That year they started handing out 45 cents an hour raises. Yes, almost 20% raises, to everyone. The union saw it for what it was, but if they contested it in court, the end result would be to drag it out further, and if they won, the employees would lose the raise and then the union would be the bad guys.
  • The employees were called in to mandatory meetings in groups of about 20 at a time, where the typical “us vs them” arguments were made, and claims that I was just trying to do this for my own gain, to be shop steward, and if they had any work place concerns, they would have to talk to me first, etc, etc. Those of us  who were considered the ring leaders were not part of these meetings, we were grouped into a separate meeting so we couldn’t respond.
  • The union was not allowed on site to hold their own meeting with employees
  • The election was eventually set to take place at the end of January. As is the case with any department store, they hired a lot of seasonal employees for Christmas. That year they hired more than normal and instead of laying them off after Christmas, they were all retained. Due to the high turnover of employees in retail, most of those voting in the election were not around when the process began.

The vote was held, and the union lost by a 2-1 margin. The next week all of the seasonal staff were laid off. A month after that, I was fired for poor job performance, which was ridiculous. I worked hard because I knew I was a target. 

I filed a complaint with the NLRB. A hearing was held to determine if my charges had any merit. I was not allowed to attend the hearing. My employer was. They called in my former boss, who got fired shortly after the drive started. He was considered unbiased because he no longer worked there and he testified that I was a poor performer. In my opinon, he was biased because he blamed me for him being fired, and this was payback, but I never got a chance to say that. 

I was notified by phone that my charges were found to have no merit, that I could continue to persue the case, but if I lost I would never be able to hold a government job. A claim, looking back, I think was a lie. I dropped the case.

So I think the process now is unfair. But I still don’t support card check. Here’s why:

  • While the process to sign up employees included no coercion in my part, nor involved the union at all, it was certainly possible if I was not honorable. At that point, however, the union did not even want to get involved unless we got a majority interest via cards first. 
  • In a secret ballot election, the union has no incentive to coerce the card signing process. It takes resources from them to attempt to organize a company and if there’s no interest, it’s a waste of time and money for them.
  • If card check were law, that would all change. The union’s attempts would shift to getting cards signed, and therefore it opens up the process to abuse. This could all be happening under the employer’s nose and they’d have no opportunity to respond.
  • Any employer decision which might get employees upset temporarily, could be capitalized on to get them unionized, even if the emotions are short lived.  For example, cutting workplace breaks from 20 minutes to 15 might piss off the staff enough that half of them sign cards, where if some time was allowed to calm down they might come to conclusions that five minutes is not THAT big of a deal. The fear of unionization would prevent many companies from making necessary decisions for the health of the company.

So I think the process is unfair now, but Card Check is curing an ailing patient’s pain by putting a bullet in their head. 

After I was fired, I got a job at the union. My job was to walk picket lines for minimum wage, no benefits. I walked an informational picket line in front of Chicago-based warehouse-styled grocery store — which then was new in our area. After about a year of that, an employee approached me. I got her to sign a card and she got all 10 employees there to sign. An election was held and it was unanimous. The entire store voted to be represented. I was elated and had promised them that the union would take care of them.  Several weeks later, the company announced they were closing ALL of their stores in the Northeast, stating the market was unprofitable for them. 

I was crushed. I blamed myself for causing the job loss of hundreds of people all throughout my region, even those who had no clue about this union drive.  I went to my union boss and was literally in tears. His only response to me was “F— them, we got that scab company out of our territory, good job.”

I quit, and learned a valuable lesson. I went to college, learned a skill, and got a degree.  I reached a personal decision that I didn’t want to be a patsy of my employer or a union. I  learned a skill where I could control my own destiny — which is what I highly recommend to anyone who will listen. 

An employee is just overhead to an employer, and is just a source of dues to a union. My advice to everyone is, don’t allow anyone to control your own earnings potential and future. Learn a skill, become valuable and manage your own destiny.

I hope I’ve painted an unbiased as possible opinion of why I think Card Check is a bad idea. I’m sure many of you will disagree with a lot of this post. I still think unions can play a potentially valuable roll in representing unskilled workers, and the current process needs to be reformed to mandate quicker secret-ballot elections and allow unions access to employees to present their side, but Card Check — it’s just a really, really bad idea. It will be abused and will tilt favor to the unions far greater than whatever advantage an employer might have over the process now.