Big Business's Threat to America: Bust Unions or We'll Go Overseas

If dirty tricks and threats can work to stop unionizing in the workplace, why can't they be used on the American public?

This week, business leaders and their GOP henchmen launched a new attack line: stop union organizing or we'll leave the country. On top of that, their allies in the ideological right are preparing a series of state constitutional amendments designed to thwart the Employee Free Choice Act, and based on the lie that the legislation stops workers from casting a secret ballot.

The Heritage Foundation reports:

Ernest Istook, Chairman of the National Advisory Board for Save Our Secret Ballot, described at the Conservative Bloggers' Briefing yesterday a grassroots, state-level strategy to nullify the effects of the Employee Free Choice Act should it be passed by Congress.

SOSBallot.org, a 501 c(4) organization, is currently pushing for constitutional amendments to be placed on the ballots of Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nevada and Utah. "Save Our Secret Ballot exists to give the citizens in the various states the opportunity to create state level protections for secret ballots that would include union representation elections," Istook said.

Istook, who is also a former Congressman from Oklahoma and a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is determined to stop the EFCA, which he says will enable unions to strong-arm otherwise unwilling workers into endorsing the formation of a union by eliminating the privacy of their vote. Instead, a far more public system of simply signing an authorization form will replace the secret ballot.

Of course, such bogus measures would also bar the voluntary use of majority sign-up procedures that have been allowed under the National Labor Relations Act for decades, and have been used by such companies as Kaiser Permanente, ATT and Harley-Davidson.

This lie about the secret ballot is built on another myth: that there's widespread intimidation by "union bosses" to join a union. But as Mary Beth Maxwell, director of American Rights at Work noted in a recent interview on C-SPAN (via the AFL-CIO blog):

Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act falsely claim the bill would do away with secret ballots or open the door to coercion by unions. Neither of these claims has merit. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow workers (rather than bosses) to choose whether to form unions, either through majority sign-up or the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process.

And claims of union intimidation are far from credible. According to AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Nancy Schiffer, a study of NLRB decisions found only 42 cases of union fraud or coercion over more than six decades since the NLRB was established. Compared with the nearly 27,000 instances of company violations of workers' rights in 2006 alone [as determined by George Bush's National Labor Relations Board] , it's clear that corporate anti-union scaremongering is a ploy to disguise the anti-worker agenda.

Maxwell dissected the corporate disinformation campaign and outlined the intimidation, harassment and delay that are pervasive in our company-dominated system. The anti-worker campaign, Maxwell says, is fundamentally about trying to keep workers from being able to exercise the freedom to bargain for a better life.

Their opposition to this isn't about them trying to protect anyone's ballot. They want to make it more difficult for folks to form unions. We think it's your American right to form a union if you want to, and it should be more straightforward. It should be fairer for workers...

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Will unionbusting tricks, threats and lies work as well on the American public as it has with workers in often low-wage workplaces seeking to organize?

Here's how it works:

One of the most common threats in any unionizing campaign is the threat by employers to shut down the plant, and, often, go overseas. As The American Prospect's Ezra Klein noted in an astute column on unionbusting as portayed on "The Office": "About 49 percent of employers openly threaten to close down a worksite when faced with a unionization drive. Untold more tell individual workers, in captive meetings, that jobs will be lost. 30 percent make good on the threat in real time, firing workers who engage in union activities." (The research backing up these sordid facts can be found here.)


Now, corporations are applying those same tactics to the American public and Congress in the hard-fought battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, which aims to level the playing field for union organizing. But the proposed legislation has been smeared with the lie that it takes away the secret ballot. In recent public statements by conservative business and political leaders, including former governor Mitt Romney in testimony this week, they're forecasting the exodus of major businesses unless we turn into an even lower-wage country.

As Think Progress points out:

Romney used some time during his opening statement to take a swipe at the Employee Free Choice Act:

"And there is one very bad idea that is being promoted by a special interest group. It is an idea that would have devastating impact on the economy--short term and long term. It would lead investors to send their funds elsewhere, businesses to expand elsewhere and jobs to relocate elsewhere. It is the plan to virtually impose unions on all small, medium and large businesses by removing the right of workers to vote by secret ballot. Card check is a very bad idea under any circumstances. In these circumstances, it would be calamitous."

As Michael Whitney laid out at the SEIU blog, "Business leaders and CEOs are developing a new strategy to combat the Employee Free Choice Act: threaten to take jobs overseas and divest from America." Romney's comment certainly falls into that category.

Fearmongering rhetoric aside, the Employee Free Choice Act would actually make the economy work for everyone, instead of only those at the top. According to estimates by the Economic Policy Institute, if 5 million service workers join unions:

- 5 million workers would get a 22 percent raise on average, or an additional $7,000 a year.

- $34 billion in total new wages would flow into the economy.

- 900,000 jobs would be lifted above the poverty wage for a family of four.

- Between 1.8 million and 3 million dependent children would share in these benefits.

But there are plenty of other examples of such conservative fear-mongering designed to cow voters and legislators into backing away from the legislation, which 78% of the public supports. As the SEIU blog observes, Romney's views were echoed earlier:

Gary Shapiro, the President of the Consumer Electronics Association, said basically the same thing earlier in the week:

"A fast-moving, successful tech company with differential compensation and incentive compensation and the need to adapt quickly is inconsistent with the straitjacket of a union environment. The tech industry executives I represent simply can't believe Congress would enact a card-check law that could force jobs overseas."

The Employee Free Choice Act is a strong economic solution that will help millions of working Americans get better wages and benefits. This kind of attack against the Employee Free Choice Act is the equivalent of CEOs taking their ball and going home.

Here's hoping that the American public -- and Congress -- can stand up to these fear-mongering tactics.