Stacked Deck

Card check? Small finishers are already the biggest losers in union elections.


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The rather euphemistically named "Employee Free Choice Act"—better known as "card check" legislation—has caused consternation among employers, including finishing shops, since its introduction in Congress early this year. And rightly so: The bill as introduced would do away with secret ballots for union elections. Instead, shops could be organized if union leaders obtain the signatures of a majority of employees on authorization forms, or "cards."

The "card check" provision may or may not make it through Congress, but other portions of the legislation are equally problematic. For example, a compromise bill would mandate "quickie" elections to be held within 10 days of a union petition and would eliminate and/or severely restrict management’s ability to communicate with employees over that time. Another provision would require binding arbitration if the company and workers cannot agree on a contract within 90 days.

Now comes word of a survey indicating that such legislation, if passed, would only further tilt the playing field in favor of unions who already win the majority of elections in small finishing shops. Conducted by industry analysts Imberman and DeForest Inc., the study of 1,257 representation elections held in Midwestern companies in the past three years found that companies already lose the majority of union elections, and that smaller companies and companies surprised by "stealth" petitions lose such elections more frequently than larger ones or companies that are aware of organizing efforts.

According to Imberman & DeForest, the study highlights lessons that should be heeded by finishing industry executives if they want their companies to remain non-union. First, management needs to be really aware of what employees are saying and doing. "Many executives confuse good intentions with real action," the firm says. "A desire for good employee communications is no substitute for actually implementing an effective ‘two-way’ communications program—upwards initially from employees, and then downwards in response from management."

The survey result showing that unions win a greater percent of representation elections in smaller companies suggests that better communication is needed even in small, family-owned finishers. "This finding upsets the belief of many well-meaning executives that they have a ‘family’ feeling in their organizations," the study authors wrote. "Many executives surveyed were proud of the fact they knew most of their employees by name and considered them ‘family.’ The statistics suggest these executives often misled themselves."

The survey authors suggest that employers maintain fair, impartial work rules that give proper weight to seniority, and find effective ways for employees to resolve the issues that bother them before they feel the need to resort to unionizing.

"Survey results and [National Labor Relations Board] NLRB statistics all suggest that executives of job shop coating companies who wish to remain union-free need to make sure their shop floor work rules are fair and followed, find an effective method to let employees speak freely and openly about their concerns and show a genuine willingness to listen to employee concerns and take them into account," the study authors conclude.