John Edwards endorses Oregon legislation

From the Oregon AFL-CIO's weekly newsletter, there's news that Senator John Edwards took time out from his presidential campaign to study and endorse HB 2891, currently under consideration by the Oregon legislature. The bill, sometimes known as "card check", would let workers create a union when a majority of workers have signed cards saying they want to do that.

We’ve long known that our Majority Sign-Up bill was a good idea for Oregon workers. Today it also has the backing of Sen. John Edwards, who was in Oregon last week as he campaigned for President.

In a letter to Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain, Sen. Edwards wrote:

HB 2891 would allow public sector workers in Oregon to form a union and bargain collectively if a majority of workers sign cards expressing that desire. I am convinced that if individuals can join the Republican or Democratic Parties by simply signing their names to a card, any worker in America ought to be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing.

By protecting a worker’s right to join a union, we give more Americans the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty and into the middle class, which is why I have been all over this country the past few years working with over 20 national unions organizing thousands of workers into unions.

Learn more at the Oregon AFL-CIO website.


  • (Show?)

    The need for this bill is clear to anyone who has tried to join a union lately in Oregon. The traditional election process ain't the democratic grandma-manning-the-polls kind of election we comsider all-American.

    A $1 billion anti-union consulting industry (with a big player recently moving to Portland) is making big bucks teaching employers how to intimidate their employees during the election process.

    A comprehensive study by former Congressman David Bonior's American Rights at Work group found that among employers faced with organizing campaigns,

    • 30% fire pro-union workers
    • 49% threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union (though only 2% actually do.)
    • 51% coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism
    • 82% hire high-priced union-busting consultants to fight union organizing drives
    • 91% force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors

    This abuse happens in Oregon all the time. Most people don't know it until they try to organize.

  • Russ Kelley (unverified)

    HB 2891 passed the Oregon House on April 18 by a vote of 34-24. It is scheduled for a work session in the Senate Commerce Committee on Monday, May 21.

  • Gordon Lafer (unverified)

    This bill is critical. The big business lobbies against this talk about "workers' right to a secret ballot election." The truth is that they just don't want workers to ever have any kind of democratic way to represent themselves in negotiating better wages and health insurance. They want to rule the workplace like a one-party state. And the "election" system under the National Labor Relattions Board runs more like the elections in the old East Germany than anything we'd call American -- one side (management) gets to monopolize all the media, force everyone to watch one-sided propaganda with no chance of response from the other side, and threatens workers with losing their jobs if they dare to want the simple thing of representing themselves through a union. Anyone who knows someone in Oregon who needs health insurance, or needs a full-time job but can only get part-time or temp, or needs job security -- has to be for this bill.

  • Jerry Fletcher (unverified)

    HB 2891 would protect good agencies and reprimand ones that do not take care of their workforce. The best way to look at it is from the view of a taxpayer.

    If an employer gives his employees a voice at work and takes care of them, this bill will be of no consequence since the employees are content and will have no will to organize. On the other hand, if the employer is abusive then HB 2891 will save taxpayers money by stopping lawsuits, turnover, low morale and other wastes of public money.

    Jerry Fletcher Central Oregon Labor Council

  • Stuart Fishman (unverified)

    Make no mistake; HB 2891, the so-called Majority Sign-Up Bill, is vital to working people. As a rank-and-file union grocery clerk I've seen how some employers will spend any amount of money and use any half-baked excuse to weaken or eliminate our union. In the world of private business, under the National Labor Relations Act, management holds all the cards: money, expert legal advise, employee contact information, communications access (bulletin boards, mailings, letters at work, supervisors, etc.), intimidation, practically non-exitant penalties for violations of the law, etc. That's what employees who want to form or join a trade association which represents THEIR interests -- a labor union -- are up against in the private sector. So unless management agrees to be neutral during an employee effort to form or join their own trade association a union election is, with some exaggeration, about as democratic as Saddam Hussein's landslide election in 2002. Public sector employees face similar problems. Mandatory majority sign-up (or card-check) would eliminate the months before an election when management can mount an anti-union campaign and this would set an important precedent for the private sector.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Wait. In order to fight back against heavy-handed employer tactics, we're going to subject employees to heavy-handed union organizing tactics? So public sector employees will no longer have the right to cast a secret ballot for or against a union -- instead, they'll have to do it in front of the union organizers?

    If there are problems with a secret ballot election, then let's fix them. But I can't see how making employees publicly declare to their co-workers whether they are for or against the union is a good thing. The potential for abuse is just way too high.

  • (Show?)

    "If there are problems with a secret ballot election, then let's fix them."

    This is the rallying cry of the Chamber of Commerce, the Bush Administration and the high-priced consultants who want to maintain the status quo that allows them to scare the pants of workers and get away with it.

    Since when did the Bush Administration care about protecting workers? This line is really about trying to avoid paying union wages.

    But, as I have said before, intimidation is wrong whether it comes from the employer or the union. In the past 60 years, the tally is this:

    • Unions have been cited 42 times
    • Employers have been cited more than 30,000 times

    Let's fix the election system AND give workers the option to choose majority sign-up.

  • (Show?)

    Since this bill only applies to public sector workers in Oregon, are there any examples of the heavy-handed tactics complained of above being used by public employers here in this state?

  • Eliot Ness (unverified)

    Unions are for losers who don't have the guts to either; confront their boss for more money, complaints, etc., or can't find another job.

  • (Show?)

    Yeah, "Eliot", nothing says guts and courage like taking anonymous pot shots at unions on a blog.

  • Eliot Ness (unverified)

    Yeah, "Charlie", isn't that the beauty part of anonymity, particularly when dealing with union thugs? You don't have to worry about them knocking on your door late at night because you had to sign your name to something.

    Regardless, my father always told me that only you are responsible for your dealings with your boss and if you don't like the way things are going, then hit the road.

  • Miles (unverified)

    This is the rallying cry of the Chamber of Commerce, the Bush Administration and the high-priced consultants who want to maintain the status quo that allows them to scare the pants of workers and get away with it.

    I have no idea why the Chamber of Commerce and the Bush Administration say things, but for me (a pro-union, unabashed liberal), having a secret ballot in union elections is very important. There are legitimate reasons why a worker might decide to oppose a union (e.g., they don't want to pay dues that support a political view that differs from their own, or they are young and don't want to wait in a seniority line before getting a lead position). We absolutely need to have enough respect for them to give them that freedom.

    The idea of an open system where everyone in the workplace knows how you voted and union organizers can directly pressure you does not sit well with me.

  • Courtney (unverified)

    First, I want to point out that in most organizing drive it is the workers seeking to form a union that collect authorization cards, not a union organizer.

    Secondly, I want to make you all aware of how undemocratic the current system is. How would you feel if you had to sign an authorization card before you could even have the opportunity to vote for the next President? And what if there were not very many people in your district that wanted to cast a ballot at all? Then you would not be able to vote, even if you wanted to. This is essentially how a union election works today. Why should they have to vote twice or be denied the opportunity to vote at all?

    Third, I just want to point out that, in some ways, a majority card check is a higher standard than the current process. In an NLRB secret ballot election a simple majority of voters is all that is needed to vote the union in. Under the proposed card check agreement a majority of all workers would have to sign a card in order for the union to be voted in.

  • Ms. Mel Harmon (unverified)

    Hey Eliot---

    Do you get overtime after 40 hours per week? Thank unions. Do you have a safe working environment? Thank unions. Do you have ANY health care offered through your workplace? Thank unions. Did you notice that we have a minimum wage in this country? Thank unions.

    Nearly all the positive things we take for granted in the workplace in this country came about because people ORGANIZED, created unions, and demanded better conditions--not just for those in the union, but for everyone. If you don't feel your wages or benefits are good enough, yeah, you can go one-on-one with your boss.....or you can unionize so you have the power of many speaking with one voice for everyone's well being. Unions work. When unions are eliminated, you'll see lots of working conditions fall, even (and especially) in non-union workplaces. As for the idea that people join unions because they are too weak to confront their boss about working conditions or wages, I invite you to observe a union at the bargaining table and then come talk to me about weak---hah!

    Bottom line, though---it's a free paraphrase the old abortion tagline....if you don't like unions, don't join one. But don't forget...union or not, you still reap a few benefits from past and current union organizers.

  • gl (unverified)

    "91% force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors"

    does anybody have any sourcing for this quote? And it is not properly sourced in Congressman David Bonior's American Rights at Work Study.

  • Russ Evans (unverified)

    In Central Oregon, we've just recently gone through the process of an election... fortunately the final outcome has been in our favor (the employees), but let me describe to the 'nay sayers' regarding this legislation what our actual experience has been with the present NLRB system:

    The employees decided to look into information on unionizing in November, 2006. A series of informational meetings were arranged with a transit workers' union.

    Almost immediately the company began a campaign of intimidation; a series of mandatory meetings was arranged by the company's CEO (under the direction of anti-union consultants), where the forty some employees were divided into groups of five or six. These anti-union meetings were held over a period of three days in a tiny room, with the out of state CEO, his Executive Vice President, The local Project Manager, and the Operations Supervisor all crammed into this room. The message was strong: joining the union would be disastrous for the company and the employees, employees would quite possibly lose their jobs, and any who were leaning toward the union were made to feel guilty for lacking company loyalty and were made to feel like 'outsiders', etc.

    The atmosphere at work, especially from this point on, was definitely a hostile work environment. The company further divided employees into those 'loyal' to the company and those who were considered 'troublemakers'; anti union workers would barely speak to any who were thought to be pro union, and when they did they treated us like we were diseased.

    More company anti-union meetings were arranged, and those suspected of 'leaning toward the union' received a memo that, though this meeting was "mandatory for all employees" these were "not invited", in bold and underlined type. This intimidation and hostility went on until the election was held on January 29th of this year.

    The pro-union employees proved to be a majority and won the election. The company charged it was unfairly held (though the NLRB oversaw the entire process), and tried a number of tactics to make it seem that violations had taken place the day of the election. After two days of hearing before a judge who came in from Seattle, the companys objections were judged as totally without merit and thrown out. The election results were upheld.

    The company then appealed the NLRB decision to Washington DC. Meanwhile the hostile and divisive atmosphere at work grew more intense and stressful. The entire situation was blamed on the pro-union employees, and the stresses on each of us was monumental; daily feeling under a microscope as far as our job performance, feeling clearly that we would be fired for the slightest mistake, any possible excuse to get rid of us. (Mass transit is stressful enough on a daily basis without this added scrutiny and intimidation.) I was finally fired for the most minor of mistakes, and it was clear that I'd been set up.

    Supporters of the pro union employees (such as Jobs With Justice, the Central Oregon Labor Council, the Oregon AFL-CIO, and others) were heroes throughout these months of persecution. Through their courageous actions the news media became involved, and political groups throughout Oregon and nationally took notice and spoke up regarding the injustice and against the unfair tactics used by the company and their union busting consultants. The local City Council even took the extraordinary step of writing to the contracting company's CEO, requesting he drop his appeal of the NLRB judgement, recognize the union, and bargain in good faith.

    Finally, "on the counsel of trusted advisors", the company CEO dropped his appeal and agreed to recognize and work with the union and unionized employees. I was soon after even reinstated to my job with full back pay and benefits, thanks to the quick and skillful activity of our union's president, who worked with the CEO by phone and email. We now are a 'union shop', I have my job back, and morale at work among nearly all employees has improved dramatically. Even many who had voted against unionizing are greatly relieved that this incredibly stressful past six months are over, and that we can all now move forward as a united team.

    Though this entire experience fortunately culminated in a victory for the employees, so much of this monumentally stressful process could have been avoided if we'd had legislation such as that proposed in place. Through a simple card vote, it would have been an open and honest process. The second guessing and intimidation would have been minimized, if not eliminated. People would have been able to cast their vote with heads held high, with their dignity intact, with no fear of reprisal due to being "suspected of leaning toward the union", but rather fearlessly submitting their card vote according to their own conscience and convictions.

    I hope this experience clarifies for some what actually occurs under the present system. Pro union workers are not "losers" as the email from the anonymous (lacking courage?) "eliot ness" charges above, but rather are conscientious people who have the courage to confront injustice and unfair labor practices. We voted for a union as a last resort; this was because the management and company refused to listen to or resolve unfair issues that were victimizing employees. What other recourse is there when a company is unwilling to sit down at a table and discuss issues with a willingness to make it right?

    Sincerely, Russ Evans ATU 757 Bend Unit

  • (Show?)

    Here's the link to David Bonior's American Rights at Work data on employer intimidation when workers are trying to join a union.

  • lincoln smith (unverified)
    <h2>I don't see anyone comment on John Edwards and his support for card count elections. Every candidate running for the Demiocratic Party nomination should have to declare their support in order to get Labor's endorsement.</h2>
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