American Rights at Work commissioned University of Oregon political
scientist Gordon Lafer to investigate how current union election
procedures measure up to U.S. democratic standards. Lafer engaged in a
thorough examination of the political philosophy and published works of
the founders, the historical development of electoral law and
jurisprudence, and current statutes and regulations that define "free
and fair” elections.
The report investigates how current union election
procedures measure up to U.S. democratic standards. In spite of the
presence of secret ballots, the report concludes that union
representation elections fall alarmingly short of living up to the most
fundamental tenets of democracy.
By Gordon Lafer, Ph.D.
American Rights at Work
Findings from Free and Fair:
Democratic Elections Standards:
How Do Union Representation Elections Measure Up?
Equal Access to the Media: Distribution of Competing Viewpoints to Create an Informed Electorate
Employees are restricted from openly disseminating information:
In elections for union representation, employers have monopoly control
of media within the workplace. They can distribute anti-union
information anywhere and at anytime, while pro-union workers are
restricted to posting literature in the break area during break time.
Unions are restricted to distributing material off-site.
Freedom of Speech: Broad Debate of Public Issues
Employees are restricted from openly expressing their opinions:
Employers are allowed to enforce a total ban on employees discussing
the proposed union outside of the break room. Yet employers enjoy
unfettered communication?subjecting employees to mandatory staff
meetings and one-on-one meetings with supervisors, often with the
intent of intimidating those suspected of supporting union formation.
Labor law provides no equal opportunities for pro-union workers to
respond or present alternative viewpoints.
Equal Access to Voters: Promoting Balanced Competition & a Level Playing Field
Employers have greater access to voters: Although
pro-union workers and union organizers are permitted to contact workers
outside of the workplace, such communication is exceedingly difficult
to arrange. Employers have unilateral access to employees within the
workplace, and can easily contact them at home. While employers may
freely distribute a steady stream of anti-union correspondence through
the mail, pro-union workers lack access to employee address information
until they can document that 30% of the workforce wants a union. Even
then, employers can legally provide lists with incomplete information,
such as missing zip codes and telephone and apartment numbers.
Voter Coercion: Restricting Undue Influence
Employees are not protected against economic coercion:
Employers and their supervisory personnel exercise considerable
economic leverage over workers, including the discretion to assign and
change work duties, grant raises and promotions, and control work
schedules. Existing statutes prohibit explicit threats to and bribery
of employees. But this leaves ample room for employers to stop short
of that threshold and still conduct activities designed to thwart union
recognition. Workers are subjected to thinly-veiled threats in the
form of ‘predictions’ that choosing to form a union may lead the
company to close the worksite, lose business and make cutbacks.
Employers are also free to make statements like “a union is a
declaration of disloyalty to me personally and an affront to everything
the company stands for.”
Timely Implementation of the Voters’ Will: A Binding System of Regular Elections & Fixed Terms of Office
Open-Ended Delays: In union representation
elections workers can face infinite delays in the implementation of
election results. Often times these lengthy delays are a result of
employers taking full advantage of permissive election guidelines.
These guidelines not only allow the appeals process to drag on for
years, but mandate that the workplace be governed as if employees voted
against organizing for the duration of the appeals process.
Campaign Finance Regulation: Promoting a Competitive Environment & a Level Playing Field
Virtually no regulation of election spending: In
union representation elections, anti-union employers have access to
resources that few unions can ever hope to match, such as on-the-clock
meetings, the use of company property and equipment, and converting
supervisors to anti-union campaign staff. In addition, U.S. labor law
provides no financial limitation and alarmingly little in the way of
reporting requirements for expenditures during the course of a union
Prof. Lafer in the Media
Op-ed: True democracy in the workplace June 14, 2007 - TheHill.com
When most people hear about “union elections,” they
assume they run the same way as elections for Congress or the
president. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.