A recent decision by federal labor
relations overseers jeopardizes a recruiting strategy that
unions have used with increasing success to try to stem their
The National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, said on Monday
it would take a "critical look" at agreements that enable
workers to get union representation by having a majority sign
petitions or cards instead of going through elections.
Known as "card check" and "neutrality" agreements because
they allow unions to represent workers where a majority have
signed union cards and employers agree not to interfere, they
have become the labor movement's main alternative to an NLRB
election process it sees as fatally flawed.
The NLRB election process allows employers to delay or
challenge the outcome of votes for years through litigation and
to use intimidating tactics against workers, according to
Stewart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO labor
federation, whose member unions represent 13 million workers.
"Because of that, workers and unions have been increasingly
looking at ways to organize outside of the NLRB election
process, because it is so flawed and so broken," Acuff said.
Although the AFL-CIO does not keep detailed records of how
many workers are represented through "card check" agreements,
Acuff said they enabled unions to get most of the 400,000 to
550,000 new members they recruited annually in recent years.
UNION MEMBERSHIP STILL SLIDES
The labor movement has failed to keep up with membership
losses caused mostly by layoffs and outsourcing, with union
membership last year accounting only for 12.9 percent of the
The United Auto Workers union had bargained "card check"
agreements into contracts with Dana Corp., an Ohio auto parts
maker, and privately owned auto parts maker Metaldyne Corp. of
It was these agreements that the NLRB decided to review.
In a 3-2 partyline vote, the board's Republican majority
said it would review whether dissident workers have a right to
launch drives to decertify the union immediately, instead of
after the typical one-year grace period, after the company
agrees to recognize the union.
Critics of "card check" have claimed it undermines the
secret-ballot process and opens the door to worker coercion by
union organizers and coworkers.
If the NLRB decides to allow dissident workers to launch
immediate decertification drives, it would force unions and
workers at a newly unionized workplace to return to the
election process instead of bargaining a first contract, said
AFL-CIO General Counsel Jon Hiatt.
A final decision would typically take the NLRB about a year
to complete, he said.
"But I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to get it done
by (November) Election Day," Hiatt added.
© 2004 Reuters Ltd