Ellison touts labor reform

Supporters praise streamlined unionizing; opponents fear worker coercion and an increased governmental role in organized labor.

A forum held Saturday hosted by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., championed legislation and a renewed push that supporters say would make organizing unions easier. Speakers, including Ellison, praised the Employee Free Choice Act, to a crowd in the CWA Local 7200 Hall in Minneapolis, boasting the billâÄôs streamlining of the union certification process. But because the bill eliminates the necessity of holding secret ballots, opponents are concerned workers will be coerced into joining unions. Under the bill, a union would be recognized after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing a labor organization to represent them, possibly eliminating the current practice of holding secret ballots. Also, the bill has a provision that creates a government-run arbitration board to meditate between a union and a company that havenâÄôt reached a contract, something opponents say is too much government control. Ellison said the arguments regarding the elimination of the secret ballot are untrue because union organizers can conduct secret ballots later in the process. âÄúThere is nothing in the Employee Free Choice Act that deprives workers of the right to a secret ballot,âÄù Ellison said. âÄúItâÄôs just not in the law. ItâÄôs not true; itâÄôs a scare tactic.âÄù John Budd , a professor in the Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, said supporters of the bill argue the removal of the secret ballot process would reduce an employerâÄôs ability to campaign against unionizing activity. James Sherk , the Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation , says the billâÄôs removal of the secret ballot, and reliance on union petitionerâÄôs card checks, would coerce workers to side with the union. âÄúThe only reason to take away a secret ballot is so that you can pressure workers,âÄù Sherk said. âÄúTheyâÄôll have a number of workers signing who donâÄôt truly support the union.âÄù Sherk also said imposing a contract on workers and companies through an arbitration board would have negative effects. âÄúItâÄôs government micromanaging of businesses,âÄù Sherk said. âÄúThese government-appointed bureaucrats donâÄôt know what it takes to run a company effectively.âÄù Ellison disagrees, saying government assistance that strengthens union organization will lead to higher wages for middle class workers. âÄúThese union-busting companies have weakened and stifled our right to organize,âÄù Ellison said. âÄúThe middle class has been sliding ever since the right to organize has been weakened.âÄù Union members at the forum, like pipefitter Stan Hornbeck of the United Association, agreed with Ellison. âÄúI think itâÄôs a good bill,âÄù Hornbeck said. âÄúIt just levels the playing field, gives [workers] an opportunity to sign up and be in a union.âÄù Budd, from CSOM , said the bill has support in the House and is likely to pass, but faces stronger opposition in the Senate. âÄúItâÄôll be interesting when action really starts heating up in Congress,âÄù he said.