Keep secret votes of employees in union organizing
Gov. Linda Lingle has vetoed a bill that would allow unions to be certified by cards signed by a majority of a workplace's employees.
Gov. Linda Lingle has vetoed a bill that would eliminate secret elections in union organizing in a narrow segment of the state's workforce but one that would set a disturbing precedent. Stronger enforcement of existing laws aimed at coercion by both labor and management would be a better way of achieving fairness while protecting workers' privacy in choosing whether to unionize.
The bill would allow union certification if more than half the workers at a workplace signed cards in favor of union representation. It would affect only agricultural workers and small businesses that are not subject to rules of the National Labor Relations Act and are of little interest to union organizers.
However, it is part of a national movement to make union organizing easier, reversing a decades-long decline in union representation. The percent of unionized workers has reached a low of 12.1 percent nationally; Hawaii's 23.4 percent is third-highest in the country.
At most workplaces, secret elections are initiated by the signing of union cards by more than half of the nonsupervisory employees. Organizers here and elsewhere have complained that some employers "intimidate, harass, coerce and fire workers who try to form unions and bargain for their economic well-being," the Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union asserted in testimony to the Legislature.
The Hawaii Employers Council responds that union organizers often use "peer pressure or other coercive methods" to obtain employees' signatures on union cards. However, employers can legally require workers to attend anti-union seminars on company time.
Federal labor law forbids employers from disciplining, firing, threatening to fire or discriminating against workers because of their union support or activities. State law has similar rules affecting agricultural or small-business workplaces not under National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction.
The bill is patterned after a "card check" bill pending in Congress that would amend federal law to trigger certification by union card signatures alone, reversing the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act that granted employers the right to require secret votes. The bill would face an eventual veto by President Bush.
The ILWU's six-year ongoing struggle for certification at Pacific Beach Hotel illustrates the need for change. William J. Puette, director of the University of Hawaii's Center for Labor Education and Research, called the standoff "a terrible case study that shows that we are not insulated from the kind of things that are going on in the rest of the country."
Puette is correct in saying that reforms are needed, but they shouldn't eliminate the right to vote in secret elections, free from peer pressure and employer intimidation.
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