Union organizing in Bend, and why I support the proposed NLRB rule change

The proposed rule at least ensures that we can have a vote in a timely manner.

By Joanne Kennedy of Bend, Oregon. Joanne is a pharmacy technician and a member of SEIU Local 49.

Today and tomorrow, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be taking public comment on a proposed rule change to the administration of union elections.

This is very welcome news considering my co-workers and I just went through an election under the old process at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. We know first hand that the process is very out of date and badly in need of modernization and reforms. You can find out more about the proposed changes on the NLRB website.

After spending several months building a strong majority of union support at St. Charles, my co-workers and I went to the labor board to request a union election be held at our hospital. We expected an election date to be set right away. Instead pharmacy technicians like me were told that our right to vote was being challenged. In fact, employers routinely stall an election with these sorts of challenges. It is often confusing and unfair to those who simply want to vote on union membership. Why do they do this?

Here is a story from Florida about how truly broken the current process is and why it hurts workers:

Ann Anderson, a Registered Nurse from Naples, Florida who, along with 900 of her co-workers, filed for a union election in August 2007. Her employer hired a union-busting consultant that used every legal maneuver at its disposal to delay the election. During the delay, the employer was cited by the NLRB for breaking the law by intimidating and harassing pro-union workers.

In the end, the employer managed to obstruct the process for nearly four years and in March of 2011, Ann and her co-workers gave up without ever having the chance to vote.

The proposed rule doesn’t go so far as to increase penalties on employers who continually break the law or intimidate workers. It does, however, at least ensure that we can have a vote in a timely manner. I think that this is a great improvement to the process and will ensure that determining the results of an election gets top priority by the NLRB.

We formed a union because we know that in this down economy, hospital workers deserve having a voice in preserving good jobs and quality care here in Central Oregon. We worry that it is getting harder and harder to make ends meet. Every day we work hard to make sure that our patients continue to receive the care that they need. Many other workers in our industry want those same things and that is why we have formed a union and why we are applauding this step by the NLRB.

Please sign on to our petition to support this rule.

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    Right on! Employers, almost by definition, have resources--money, lawyers, lobbyists--that workers and unions can't match. NLRB's role is to, insofar as it's possible, level the playing field so workers can figure out what they want for themselves. Here's hoping the new regs help.

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      Are you kidding? Are you claiming that a small or medium-sized business can ever hope to match the power and money of the SEIU, Teamsters, ILW or any of Big Labor's members?

      This isn't about leveling the playing field. It is about shutting down any possibility of debate about joining a union. Since Big Labor wasn't able to shut down democratic elections about unions, this is their next Great White Hope.

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    The last thing any union ever wants is to have to compete in the free-market of ideas. Therefore their goal is to silence any opposition and limit debate. This is what the NLRB has been trying to do for the past 18 months and this proposal exemplifies it.

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    Ken, Your analysis seems to be "if labor is for it, then (a) I must be opposed to it; and (b) it must involve anti-democratic measures." That said, I'm not sure how proposals to address problems of extraordinary delay in a democratic vote is anti-democratic.

    You suggest that "Big Labor" (nice, Breitbartism!) can crush small or medium-sized businesses. That assertion is just not borne out by the evidence (for starters, why aren't all small/medium businesses unionized by Big Labor?). Moreover, let's take an apples to apples comparison. How about Big Business versus Big Labor - is that an equal playing field?

    Finally, you suggest that you support free market competition in union elections. Therefore, I assume you support allowing union organizers to have access to workplaces to help employees make informed decisions, that you oppose meetings where employers mandate that employees listen to anti-union propaganda, and that, generally speaking, you believe elections should be held within a defined period after employees request an election. Right?

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      I do support union's right to organize. However, they already have that. As to the time frame, the clock starts when the union petitions for an election. Up until that point, the union can spend years putting out their point of view, and the company may or may not even be made aware of this. In any case, the company cannot respond to any union activity, because it is not officially under an organizing drive until the petition is filed. So this means that the union can do their thing and lie low, then when the winds blow their way call for the election. So the company has only 10 days to respond to a membership drive that a union has spent months organizing? How is that fair? Finally if you are going to paraphrase me, don't twist my words around. I said that unions don't want the free-market of ideas. This is proven by the Labor industry trying to eliminate secret ballots and forcing card-check. QED. Finally, the most successful companies in modern business empower employees using self-managed work teams. Both hierarchical management styles and traditional labor unions are anachronisms in today's real world. A good example is the Japanese automakers who have plants in the US. The UAW has repeatedly tried to organize those workers and has lost every election. Not because of intimidation, or because those workers are less intelligent than the "enlightened ones." It is because the union doesn't provide any benefit to an empowered and self-managed workforce.

      I am sure that none of you buy those Japanese vehicles from those plants, though. If you claim to be pro-union, but buy Japanese cars instead of cars assembled by UAW workers, that would mean you are a hypocrite.

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    Since forming a union is one of the only ways workers have to get a voice on the job and protect middle class jobs it is exciting and historic to see the NLRB making a few welcome updates to their rules. I have seen countless workers lose the chance at having a seat at the table because of an un-democratic and pro-corporate system for private sector employees. Joanne & her co-workers inspire me every day- I am so glad they have a union so they can be patient care advocates for all of us.

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