Capitol Card Check Tricks

Katy Grimes: This column first appeared in the April 24, 2011 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.

Last week Assembly Speaker John Perez suspended the public notice rule for legislative hearings, allowing an Assembly committee to conduct a surprise hearing on a “card check” bill, and voted to pass it to the next committee. That is not the only sleight of hand going on in the quest to eliminate the secret ballot for union representation.

In card check elections, workers can be intimidated and coerced into signing a “card” saying that they want union representation. The election is not held using the secret ballot — workers must sign the cards publicly. After a majority of the cards are signed and the employee’s vote has been made known to the union, if more than 50 percent of the cards are signed, employees are then required to join the union.

What’s most egregious is that the union pushing the election does not have to disclose to the employees that the purpose of acquiring their signatures means a vote for unionization, and cards can be signed up to one year in advance of use. Many have questioned the real intent behind this provision.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat and former lawyer for the California State Employees Association, has authored SB 104, a third attempt at legalizing card-check elections for agriculture workers.

“SB 104 does not eliminate the secret ballot — it just adds the new option to the secret ballot process,” Steinberg representative Charles Wright said.

Opponents have continued to challenge that claim, noting that no election has to be held if more than 50 percent of the cards are signed by farm workers. Even proponents of the bill have acknowledged that garnering 51 percent of the signed cards is enough to nix an election by secret ballot.

The bill would allow a labor organization to fill out all of the information contained in a representation card, except for the employee’s signature. And, the labor board is allowed to “ignore discrepancies” between the employee’s name card and the employee’s name on the employer’s list.

Additionally, the bill unfairly imposes hefty penalties against employers, but not against unions, for intimidation. And while there is a need for balance regarding unfair labor practices, both sides should receive penalties if found guilty.

One apparent motive for Steinberg’s bill probably has more to do with declining labor union membership in California’s private sector. Supporters hope that the measure will bolster card-check actions against private-sector employers across the country. That is doubtless the justification for defiling the secret-ballot process.

Former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two previous card-check bills. Supporters of SB 104 are counting on Gov. Jerry Brown to sign this one. Before taking action, the governor should recall the views of Cesar Chavez, who died in 1993 but remains a hero to California farm workers.

Cesar Chavez supported the secret ballot for union representation, testified a farm worker who knew Chavez at a recent hearing on SB 104. Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a Davis Democrat, responded that Chavez would have supported SB 104. Clearly, Sacramento legislators are so obsessed with eliminating the secret ballot they won’t even let Cesar Chavez cast a vote.

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