Legislators should stop their assault on Hawaii business


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Content with Hawaii's entrenched anti-business reputation, state legislators have given serious consideration in this session to bills that would fully display their contempt. One measure that would discourage companies from saving those facing bankruptcy has been put aside, but another that appears headed for approval would sidestep secret-ballot elections — the trademark of democracy — in union organizing.

A proposal known as “;card check”; has won Senate approval and is alive and moving toward enactment. It would enable union organizers to obtain certification by obtaining signatures on union cards by more than half of a company's workforce. Present law requires the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret-ballot election if at least 30 percent sign union cards.

Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill in last year's session that would have eliminated secret-ballot elections by that means in a narrow segment of the state's workforce. The current bill would apply more widely and, if approved, should produce a more emphatic veto.



A similar bill in Congress is expected to pass in the House but Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, a past supporter, has turned against it, which might keep the Senate from overcoming a filibuster. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act grants employers the right to require secret votes.

Unions maintain that management intimidates their employees from forming a union affiliation,

although federal law forbids employers from engaging in such conduct. The Hawaii Employers Council says union organizers have been coercive in obtaining workers' signatures on union cards triggering elections. Intimidation obviously flows in both directions.

Last week, three progressive companies - Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods - proposed a compromise worthy of consideration. Their proposal would protect management's right to demand a secret-ballot election.

It also would increase penalties against companies that retaliate against workers before elections and would make it easier for companies to call elections to decertify a union. It would limit election delays that give employers more time to pressure their employees and would increase union organizers' access to employees.



Another Hawaii bill approved by the Senate would require a company purchasing a floundering business to retain every employee of the previous employer for at least 90 days. Such a requirement would amount to spurious government intervention.

The bill was put on hold in the House after former Hawaii first lady Vicky Cayetano, owner of United Laundry Services Inc., testified, “;Unfortunately, sometimes a new employer has to make a painstaking decision to reduce its workforce in order to save the business or turn it around.”;

While some jobs might be lost in the transfer of ownership, Cayetano explained to previously oblivious legislators that a potential buyer's decision to walk away because of the requirement would result in all jobs being lost. “;In the current economic environment we face,”; she said, “;it is certainly not the time to impose legislation that will discourage potential buyers from acquiring struggling businesses.”;