Ashe Fallout

Picketline blog has text and great pictures of Ashe Tuesday.

And Pres. Shalala has just sent out a message to the university community. If you don’t think about it too much it is a great piece of persuasive writing but contains a huge logical fallacy. And a bit of what I fear may be wishful thinking.

Let’s start with the (accurate) set-up

Basically, [the Ashe students] want the university to tell one of our contractors, UNICCO, to accept cards that the union, SEIU, has had UNICCO employees sign requesting union recognition. The union argues that collecting signatures as an indication of what the employees want is better and fairer than a secret, federal government (National Labor Relations Board) supervised vote. The contractor, UNICCO, has called for the secret ballot procedure supervised by the NLRB (it should be noted that recognizing a union on the basis of cards is optional under the law; recognizing a union under a secret ballot election is mandated by the law).

Now here’s the fallacious bit:

The students who sat in yesterday support the SEIU position. They wanted the university to share their view. They believe the NLRB process takes too long and is flawed. As I explained to them, we are neutral on the process – the union and the contractor need to work that out. However, when pushed on why we couldn’t just choose to support the card-signing system, I pointed out that the university simply could never take a position against a secret ballot procedure supervised by a federal government agency. Secret ballots are at the heart of our democratic system. In fact, many of the UNICCO employees in our community came to this country precisely because of our free (and secret ballot) elections.

I hope very much that this is just PR and not what Pres. Shalala actually believes. Because it’s odd.

There is no reason in the world why the University couldn’t if it chose take a position that a process run by the Bush administration has an anti-union bias. But leave that aside. Suppose both processes are in fact formally fair, but that they have different psychological biases: card-check provides a greater chance one-on-persuasion; ballot, which takes place at a defined time, allows the best chance for the employer to maximize its inducements and threats so that they are at their peak effectiveness at the moment of the vote. In that world, there are no “neutrals”.

But wait. It gets stranger. President Shalala thinks that there’s some magic “third way” heretofore unknown to labor lawyers, and that we here at UM are going to invent it:

I suggested last night that everyone sit down and see if they can find a third option that is free from intimidation. We need a fair democratic process for the employees of UNICCO to decide whether or not they want SEIU to represent them, free from intimidation or coercion from either side, or concern about their job stability. That discussion will begin Friday at noon.

As I’ve said before, labor law is way outside my areas of even minimal competence. But I do read the newspapers. And if there was a third way beside polling people asynchronously (card check) and polling people synchronously (ballot), identifying it would seem to me to be something of a feat.

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5 Responses to Ashe Fallout

  1. Renee Asher says:

    Shalala’s statement is indeed odd. As a partisan, I am hardly unbiased. However, I do wonder what motivated her to write the statement. (Nothing to gain PR wise. Better move would have been to stick with the principles she set out the night before. They made her look fair, thoughful and compassionate.)

  2. Brett Bellmore says:

    Wow, what a topsy-turvy view of things, where it’s the secret ballot that has the coercion issues! Did you actually think that through?

    I know that you’re extremely pro-union, but do try to understand that there’s a much bigger difference between the secret ballot and card checks than the mere fact that the latter takes place over an extended period. It’s that the latter lets you know who to target for retribution.

    And it’s rather telling that it’s the union that opposes the secret ballot, and not the company. That lets you know which side at least THINKS it has the upper hand when it comes to being threatening…

  3. Michael says:

    Like I keep saying, I’m relying on others here, but have a look at this FAQ at points 4-6.

  4. Half says:

    That link was enlighening Michael, so, Thanks! It goes a long way toward explaining some of the modalities of employer retaliation and documenting their frequency in card check vs. ballot campaigns.

    I note that the Pickline folks were less than explicit in ‘answering’ one of their own FAQ questions, #6: “Why do employers object to [card check campaigns]?” Perhaps they felt an implicit answer would suffice: “Card check campaigns have been used to sign up about 70% of the workers who unionized last year.”

  5. Brett Bellmore says:

    It’s a somewhat biased FAQ; Not just the failure to answer #6, but also the presumption of causation where only correlation is found.

    Why is employer intimidation more likely to be reported in cases where there’s a secret ballot election? It’s certainly not because secret ballot elections make it easier for the employer to target union voters for retaliation. One would presume that it’s because the employers who are most opposed to unionization, and thus inclined to intimidation, are also going to hold out for the secret ballot election, whereas employers who don’t really much care if their employees unionize are willing to let the union have it’s card check.

    It would indeed appear that card checks make unionization easier than secret ballot elections. Depending on the mechanism, this isn’t necessarilly a good thing, unless you regard unionization an unalloyed good irregardless of how it might be achieved.

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