In 2011, the United Auto Workers (UAW) released a disingenuous document entitled “Principles for a Fair Election.” The idea was to convince the public that the UAW, which many blamed for Detroit’s woes, had transformed itself into a benevolent business partner. For example, the principle’s preamble states: “Through teamwork and creative problem solving, we are building relationships with employers based upon a foundation of respect, shared goals and a common mission.”
Behind such flowery prose, however, the goal of the principles was not to usher in an era of good feelings between the UAW and employers. Rather, as seen today in Tennessee, they were cleverly crafted to pressure the UAW’s targets, particularly non-unionized automakers in the South, into accepting card check.
Card check is a particular method of union organizing. Under card check, union operatives ask workers to sign a card indicating support for the union. These cards are signed in public, so the union knows which workers support them—and which don’t. Once a union “convinces” a majority to sign up, it demands recognition from the employer. Not surprisingly, unions like card check organizing because it greatly increases their odds of winning, even if they don’t have honest majority support. Workers will sign cards for any number of reasons: to escape union harassment, avoid being flagged as a union opponent, or simply because they didn’t understand what they were signing. This undemocratic process is in stark contrast to a traditional secret ballot election, in which a union has to campaign for support and workers vote in private. Unions prefer to avoid this process since they can’t influence the outcome and there are fewer opportunities to pressure the electorate.
While the principles contain 11 clauses, clause nine makes clear the UAW’s determination to promote card check over secret ballots. It states that a secret ballot election is an “acceptable” means of determining if workers want to join the UAW, but only if an employer has complied with numerous subjective conditions (with compliance determined by the union), gives up its right to free speech, and allows union organizers onto its property. If not, the UAW will demand an “alternative method” of organizing (i.e. card check) and attack the employer for refusing to allow a “fair” election.
The UAW’s organizing drive in Tennessee demonstrates that card check trumps any other provisions of the principles. At Volkswagen’s (VW) Chattanooga plant, the UAW claims that a majority of workers has signed union cards and is demanding immediate recognition. However, the UAW hasn’t bothered to state what part of the principles VW might have violated to preclude the option of a secret ballot.
Worse yet, worker complaints to federal authorities suggest how the union might have obtained the requisite number of cards. Workers allege that the UAW tricked them by claiming that signing a card only indicated an interest in an election — not a “vote” in favor of the union. Other allegations are that the UAW is including expired cards in its “majority,” and that it has refused to return cards to workers who now want them back.
Aside from baseless demands for card check, other UAW behavior is as confrontational as ever. For example, the union recently sponsored a trumped-up report accusing a southern automaker of being a human rights violator, despite a statement in the principles that “the UAW will explicitly disavow, reject and discourage messages” that indicate an employer “is not operating in a socially responsible way.” In another example, UAW president Bob King threatened Nissan by stating, “If Nissan’s American management keeps operating the way they are, the global campaign [attacking the company] will escalate and it’s going to hurt the whole Nissan brand.”
With these aggressive attacks on employers, dishonest demands for card check, and allegations of misconduct, it’s time to ask what became of the UAW’s call for relationships built on “respect.”
Glenn Spencer is the vice president of the Workforce Freedom Initiative. To learn more, visit www.workforcefreedom.com.