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June 19, 2007

Comments

By the way, getting back to first principles, what other sort of organization in our society doesn't simply get to decide amongst itself whether to form? If I want to create a Democratic interest group and sign people up, the government doesn't mandate that the Republicans be given equal access to my prospective members to talk them out of joining.

The right of collective bargaining belongs to the workers, period. If they decide to form a union, or not to form a union, it's up to them - we call that freedom. Contra Seb, there is no reason the employer should have an inalienable right to make the case against unionization prior to an actual decision.

Anti-union workers, naturally, should have a full and fair chance to persuade their colleagues not to join a union, without unfair tactics being deployed against them. That's a given. But there's no reason the company should have a say as to what the workers should decide, any more than the workers should have a say in the company's management decisions beyond what the company voluntarily agrees to give them.

If one of the objections to card check is that the company may not get a chance to publicly make its case prior to the decision, then I dismiss that concern out of hand. They simply have no right to a government-mandated role in the workers' decisionmaking process.

Hilzoy: A good argument, but let me suggest this...

Union membership has been in steady decline for many years now. Some of that may be due to such factors as moving manufacturing/textile jobs overseas etc, but in general it seems that fewer workers want to be in a union. Even workplaces with well established unions have seen a membership decline, and it is not just the US but worldwide I believe.
Government workers have a long established union and certainly face no difficulties of any kind in joining their union, yet they choose not to join by almost two to one. Are you aware of any public sector workers such as police, fire fighters, teachers, etc. who do not have the opportunity to join a union? Fewer than half do. Only 12% of wage and salaried workers belong to a union. (PDF)

Certainly some of the other 88% may want to have a union and may be blocked by McScrooge, but it certainly seems like there is also a large percentage who are just not interested.

So if you accept the premise that fewer people want to be union members to begin with, that there is no significant percentage of workers who really want to be in a union but are being blocked by management, then the only benefit in this bill is to the unions themselves and to Democrats.

Now it is fair to say that it is one thing for people who have the opportunity to join but decline and people who have no opportunity at all. But there still seems to be less interest, and possibly less need, in this day and age.

Lizardbreath, "Hardly. Secret ballots exist so there is no coercion while voting. What we have is a situation where one side is performing coercion prior to voting. You seem to be saying that because no one sees how each individual worker votes, the threats beforehand to the entire group of voters don't matter, which is simply absurd."

No, secret ballots don't exist so there is NO COERCION while voting. They exist so you can't coerce someone based on your knowledge of how they voted. It is one of the most basic protections, because knowing for sure how people voted takes all the guesswork out of which people you should try to intimidate. Card check destroys that. Furthermore, secret ballot elections take place at a specific time or very narrow window of time. This increases the protection because not only do you not know who voted how, but you can't coerce them to change their vote after they have already made it. Card check destroys that too, because you know exactly who said no to you, and you aren't barred from 'asking' them again (and since you aren't telling the employer, there isn't someone who knows the laws such that even if you made it illegal, it would obviously come to light). It takes away two of the most basic democratic protections--protections that are so ingrained that we don't even think about why they exist very often. Further they take away the ability of the company to make their case. It seems obvious to me that you don't have to attack the most typcial democratic protections to democratically ratify a union.

"I'm going to assume that the difference in positions here isn't simply that labor advocates are nasty cheats and labor opponents are upstanding and honest supporters of fair elections, but that instead there's a practical difference in how card check versus NLRB elections affect outcomes of organizing drives. You can disagree with this, but then there's no real point in taking the discussion further."

There being a practical difference in outcomes isn't the point. You could dictate the outcome if you want, or you could almost dictate it by fining workers who won't sign. If you think that there are tilts in the democratic voting process, we can talk about finding a remedy for that. If you just want unions, and are willing to violate most of the normal democratic safeguards to try to get it, just go all the way and mandate unions. But make clear which you want.

Hilzoy, your premise doesn't lead to card check, it leads to making violations non-trivial. For example you could make a very big fine, and now that bad faith had been established, you could have that no additional information snap election.

Which leads me to another point. The pro-card check side seems to work under the assumption that secret ballot and limited time voting should be abolished for 100% of companies as if all or nearly all of them were very seriously abusing the process. That hasn't been established at all. If you want to punish specific bad actors with relaxed rules, that would be one thing. But you are arguing for the end to some of the most basic democratic protections for an entire class of people, for very little established reason and without much interest in less dramatic methods of dealing with the problems.

"The right of collective bargaining belongs to the workers, period. If they decide to form a union, or not to form a union, it's up to them - we call that freedom. Contra Seb, there is no reason the employer should have an inalienable right to make the case against unionization prior to an actual decision."

You can get that right this very instant if you don't want to have extra-special government-granted protections under the law. This is about voting to get the extra-special legal status.

Sebastian,

I wrote the first comment you responded to, not Liz. That aside, you still seem to be saying that increasing penalties for the violation undoes the damage caused by a wrongful firing of the union organizer, who may have been unable to find work in the interim, even when it is years later. Again, there is no reason to believe that to be true, and common sense on the side of the opposite.

Steve: By the way, getting back to first principles, what other sort of organization in our society doesn't simply get to decide amongst itself whether to form?

What other organization has government backing to go onto private property to recruit members (off the clock)? For what other organization does the government declare that those opposed to the organization must furnish a full list of prospective members including home addresses?

Anti-union workers, naturally, should have a full and fair chance to persuade their colleagues not to join a union, without unfair tactics being deployed against them.

To my earlier point - who is looking out for those workers, especially in the case of card checks? Forget intimidation, peer pressure is probably good for a fair percentage of yes votes that would have been no if the ballot were secret.

I learned assembly on a Z80 CP/M machine

8080, Z80...we could probably understand each others' code.

I actually liked VMS quite a lot, but UNIX was handier for some things; more flexible.

Remember your first full screen editor? Life was good, after that.

"That aside, you still seem to be saying that increasing penalties for the violation undoes the damage caused by a wrongful firing of the union organizer, who may have been unable to find work in the interim, even when it is years later. Again, there is no reason to believe that to be true, and common sense on the side of the opposite."

And so we should remove the right of secret ballot to every possible worker in the United States if they want to vote on the issue of a union at their workplace? The remedy doesn't match the harm. Unlawful termination damages could certainly include wages which couldn't be collected in the interim....and I'm pretty sure that they do in most jurisdictions.

Also, I find the turn in the conversation regarding the rights of the anti-union workers very useful. Remember it is THEIR right to secret ballot which is being removed, not the company's. You are asking THEM to sacrifice THEIR most basic democratic protections in order to punish what you see as wrong-doing on the part of the company. What is the logic in removing the rights of those workers when you think it is the company that is engaging in wrongdoing?

There being a practical difference in outcomes isn't the point.

No, the point is the reason for the practical difference in outcomes. We've got good evidence (I'm convinced by it. You may not be, but then we're arguing about facts, not principles) that employer intimidation, including unlawful employer intimidation, is a major factor in the outcome of organizing campaigns. Structurally, it is apparent to me that employers are in a stronger position to intimidate than other workers (employers can intimidate through threatening or committing civil violations, while other workers have to threaten or commit crimes in order to intimidate. So I'm willing to take the evidence based position that in the US, today, employer intimidation is a larger cause of interference with the free choice of each worker whether or not to organize than intimidation by other workers.

Practically, it is clear from looking at which side favors what, that NLRB elections allow a greater scope for employers to intimidate workers than card check elections. I don't see actual evidence that intimidation of workers by other workers is a significant problem in the card-check stage that now precedes NLRB elections, and don't see good reason to think that it would be a significant problem, not handleable by criminal law enforcement, in card check elections generally.

For those reasons, I think the evidence shows that card check elections would be likely to be characterized by less intimidation of workers than NLRB elections are now. Given that the 'secret ballot' isn't worthwhile as a matter of principle in itself, but only as a tool for arriving at elections free of intimidation, card check elections appear preferable.

You are asking THEM to sacrifice THEIR most basic democratic protections in order to punish what you see as wrong-doing on the part of the company. What is the logic in removing the rights of those workers when you think it is the company that is engaging in wrongdoing?

They don't have a right to a secret ballot -- they have a right to an election free of intimidation and unfair influence. The criminal law can protect them from possible crimes committed by their fellow workers, if such are a problem, but card-check elections are the best plan we've got (Ezra's snap elections might work if they could be made practical) for protecting them from the most significant source of intimidation, their employer.

"So I'm willing to take the evidence based position that in the US, today, employer intimidation is a larger cause of interference with the free choice of each worker whether or not to organize than intimidation by other workers."

Larger is not the same as significant. As noted above, at least 50% of employers in the public sector who have access to unions choose not to join. These are employees who have no particular reason whatsoever to believe that unions might make it difficult for their businesses to survive.

You appeal to the lack of current problems, but don't look at the idea that perhaps that is related to the current rules. If I said that Social Security isn't needed because old people have some of the lowest poverty rates around, you would correctly note that a major reason they have low rates is because of Social Security. Secret Ballot is one of the key methods of making coercion difficult. You are asking all anti-union employees to give up that protection because you believe that businesses are too strong in the negotiation. You are damaging a third party who is unrelated to the wrong you see.

"The criminal law can protect them from possible crimes committed by their fellow workers, if such are a problem, but card-check elections are the best plan we've got (Ezra's snap elections might work if they could be made practical) for protecting them from the most significant source of intimidation, their employer."

This is non-sensical. If you are going to trust criminal law, you can do that for company action too. And you aren't additionally protecting employees from employer intimidation at all, you are introducing new intimidation opportunities from the other side in the hope that it will counter-balance what you have judged to be an unfair opportunity for intimidation on the employer side.

Forget intimidation, peer pressure is probably good for a fair percentage of yes votes that would have been no if the ballot were secret.

All you're saying is that the fact that card check is less than perfect is a reason to oppose it.

I'll put your "fair percentage of yes votes" - a notion based on pure speculation - up against the 46% of workers who felt coerced by their employer to oppose a union in the context of an NLRB election.

Half the workers report coercion by management. Not just some sort of informational campaign, but coercion, with half of that number saying management coerced them "a great deal."

And given a status quo where fully half of all workers are reporting coercion by management, your response is that well, if we had card check there'd be some amount of peer pressure, so that's a good enough reason to stick with the status quo. I'm just not swayed by that.

"so that's a good enough reason to stick with the status quo. I'm just not swayed by that."

No, that isn't a good enough reason to abandon the most routine and expected normal part of democratic processes--secret ballot. Opposing an extremely drastic measure is not the same as supporting the status quo.

Next up, Sebastian argues for eliminating Roll Call and voice votes in Congress because they are not TEH SECRET BALLOT and therefore not democratic.

Oh, the sanctimony. Yes, even if we know for a fact that half of all voters feel coerced by management, we surely can't get rid of the sacred secret ballot. Why not? Because it protects against coercion!

Have you even addressed the point that the law will continue to guarantee a secret ballot if 30% of the workers petition for it?

Sebastian,
This is just an observation and has nothing to do with the question of secret elections, so please don't take this the wrong way, but when you resort to all capital letters to emphasize something, it seems to have the effect of raising the temp. I think if you could adopt a different way of stating emphasis, such as highlighting with a _underline_ or an *asterisk*, things might not get so sarcastic. I started to make my observation as a wry aside, but then thought that it might be taken the wrong way, so please realize that this not a prescriptive rant or an attack, just a simple observation.

If you are going to trust criminal law, you can do that for company action too.

Sebastian, firing an employee for joining a union isn't a crime. It's a civil violation. That's the point -- people do it because no one goes to jail for it. For a union to intimidate people into joining, they need actual leg-breakers who are willing to risk jail time.

You appeal to the lack of current problems, but don't look at the idea that perhaps that is related to the current rules.

Under the current rules, there is a card check stage which the union has to get by before they get to an NLRB election. A union that couldn't get past card check without intimidation would never reach the secret ballot stage. So we should be seeing union intimidation now, if it were going to be a significant problem in card check only elections.

"Yes, even if we know for a fact that half of all voters feel coerced by management, we surely can't get rid of the sacred secret ballot. Why not? Because it protects against coercion!"

Look, that survey didn't define 'coercion'. So when 46% of people report "management pressure", I'm not convinced that the a *good* way to remedy that is to abandon secret ballot for all the people who might oppose the union.

If the company truthfully said that they would have to shut down the plant, that would have counted as "management pressure", even though it was in fact merely direct information sharing. Introducing *more* opportunities for coercion is not a fantastic way to fight coercion.

Lizardbreath, it isn't the same at all, because the card check you are talking about is only about taking a vote--something which I wouldn't object to as an employee (even if I would vote against the union).

And I don't at all understand the complaints about inadequate remedies against a company being an argument for removing secret ballot from a totally different group--employees. Aren't we talking about changing the law anyway? If we are talking about changing the law, the current inadequacy of the law doesn't argue for any particular change of the law. If we are changing the law, why not address the inadequacy directly rather than leaving it in place and introducing entirely new areas for coercion against entirely different groups of people? If the problem is that the current laws don't punish corporations enough for violations, why not change those laws instead of attacking secret ballots for employees?

And what about the employees of the 56% of companies that are apparently offering no "management pressure" whatsoever? Why should their employees be stripped of secret ballot and subjected to entirely new possibilities of coercion?

And hey, "secret ballot" isn't a Constitutional right, it is just a habit we've gotten into since the early 1800s. Maybe it really doesn't have a point at all. We could get rid of it for presidential elections. I'm sure that wouldn't introduce very many new problems....

Sebastian, you seem pretty full of it to me. For one, in order to effectively prevent management from firing employees w/ union ties I think you might have to eliminate employment at will & create a legal aid society for trying those cases. For another thing, we DO have laws that would work better against intimidation in card check elections than: (1) the status quo, or (2) any proposal I have ever seen, let alone one you'd support.

What I don't understand is how the local union is supposed to have all this power to intimidate, hire squads of goons, coerce etc. before it exists.

Slartibartfast: I actually liked VMS quite a lot, but UNIX was handier for some things; more flexible.

I have still never seen a better scripting language than DCL. I could do anything with that. UNIX shell comes close, but I could absolutely rock with DCL. My first UNIX experience was with the Alpha. Man that was a sweet ride. I miss DEC quite a bit. I’ll never buy Compaq anything as long as I live.

Remember your first full screen editor? Life was good, after that.

Oh yeah. I would rather have a root canal than have to use a line editor ever again in my life.

Lizardbreath, it isn't the same at all, because the card check you are talking about is only about taking a vote--something which I wouldn't object to as an employee (even if I would vote against the union).

Because a union that couldn't survive card check in a card check election couldn't survive the card check stage of an NLRB election now. Either way, it needs to make it through a card check, so if there's going to be intimidation, we should see it now. To put it another way, the same union opponents who won't sign cards without intimidation in a card check election, won't sign cards without intimidation in the card check stage of an NLRB election -- the union's motivation for intimidating them is the same now as it would be without the following secret ballot. (Yes, logically it is possible that there may be someone who would sign a card because they wanted there to be a secret ballot, despite the fact that they opposed the union. If you plan to hang your hat on such perverse voters being a significant enough portion of the workforce to make the incentives in pre-ballot cardchecks different from cardcheck only elections, that's desperately unconvincing.)

And I don't at all understand the complaints about inadequate remedies against a company being an argument for removing secret ballot from a totally different group--employees.

Because card check elections aren't a punishment, they're a structural means of avoiding intimidation of workers by their employers.

entirely new areas for coercion

They're not entirely new. As I said above, every single NLRB election is preceded by a card check campaign, and if the card check campaign fails, the union never makes it to a secret ballot. If the workers wouldn't sign cards without intimidation, either we'd be seeing intimidation, or we wouldn't be seeing successful card check campaigns. But we do see successful card check campaigns, and we don't see evidence in the news of labor violence or threats of violence being used to compel the signing of cards.

If we are changing the law, why not address the inadequacy directly rather than leaving it in place

Regulatory capture. With an NLRB that I trusted to run quick fair elections and reliably punish transgressions of law in a manner calculated to deter, I'd consider other means of changing the law. Card check elections don't require much from the NLRB (a tool of the executive) in terms of energetic and evenhanded law enforcement.


Steve: I'm just not swayed by that.

Can’t say I am surprised. My viewpoint is this:

My first (and last) experience with a union shop set my mind. Not GOP talking points. While I was interviewing for the position I was harassed by the union. On my very first interview, while I was waiting, the receptionist said something about it and I replied pretty much “not interested”. In my interviews, the HR person, the manager, no one mentioned it at all. I was called back for a second interview. Looking good. About 5 minutes after I got there a union rep came in and set down beside me. It was very obvious that a) the receptionist called him and b) she did not tell the manager I was there until he was done with me. He tried to sell me like a time-share salesman. He was pretty pissed when I was not interested: he as much as told me that it would not work out for me there if I did not join the union. He gave up and left, then the receptionist buzzed the manager and I got my second interview. I got the offer, I turned it down. I never ever took another interview at a union shop.

I am not swayed by your arguments that the anti-union worker will be looked out for.

Katherine: What I don't understand is how the local union is supposed to have all this power to intimidate, hire squads of goons, coerce etc. before it exists.

Per above, my concern is letting it exist to begin with. You can’t really get rid of it once it is born, can you?

BTW – my second experience with unions (from afar): Philly convention center. You could not assemble your trade booth and run an extension cord. A union electrician had to do that. You could not wield a screwdriver; a union carpenter had to do that. You couldn’t move a box…

They did have a handful of workers on duty, but there were 5 times more off duty, hanging around, looking for any infraction of “union work rules”.

For some reason trade shows and conventions started avoiding Philly.

Unions are on the verge of destroying our airlines and our auto manufacturers. That should be an interesting economy. Hope they enjoy their pension.

Unions are on the verge of destroying our airlines and our auto manufacturers. That should be an interesting economy. Hope they enjoy their pension.

Don't worry, it's been stolen. At least my mother's -- forty years a flight attendant until TWA went under, and then a few years after with American. She made less in 2000 then she did in 1980, and lost 90% of her pension in a series of bankruptcies that management came out of very nicely, thank you.

But I'll tell her she killed the airlines for you if you like.

OCSteve, I appreciate your story, although I confess the most interesting part to me is that you got a job offer in spite of it all. Rest assured that I don't believe in some fantasyland where there's no such thing as union coercion.

In response to your other post, what truly baffles me is that conservatives who staunchly believe in the validity of free-market outcomes have such a big problem with the results of union negotiations. I mean, if a company goes out of business because they couldn't deal with competitive pressure, or with the prices set by suppliers, that's just fine, but if they go out of business because the union made unrealistic demands the solution is to get rid of unions. There's just this odd sort of antipathy towards unions that doesn't exist towards any other sort of market actor. In fact, people who complain about other market actors are dismissed as anti-business liberals.

workers organizing for themselves=bad

giant insurance corporations that distort the health care system so that we end up paying too much for what we get? they're untouchable.

companies like KBR and endless list of defense contractors that bilk the taxpayers out of billions? shrug.

Other market actors don't tend to break the windshields of those who are looking for a market for their product.

I guess I could be wrong about that, though.

Nah, they just maim their employees.

Seriously, isn't it as silly of you to blame every union for an unspecified violent crime as it is for me to blame every corporation for stolen pensions, defrauded investors, and maimed or cheated employees?

"isn't it as silly of you to blame every union for an unspecified violent crime as it is for me to blame every corporation for stolen pensions, defrauded investors, and maimed or cheated employees?"

The one is directly relevant to the discussion, the other not so much.

Sorry, the record of corporate lawlessness isn't relevant either to the need for organization or to the methods necessary to make organization possible? How do you figure that?

Other market actors don't tend to break the windshields of those who are looking for a market for their product.

So that's your answer? Because some union people break the law, folks shouldn't have the right to collectively bargain? I wasn't expecting to hear a serious justification for anti-union animus among conservatives, but still, sheesh.

Are you familiar with the history of the American labor movement, by the way? Do you understand that the historical reason why unions became entangled with organized crime was because they needed protection from extralegal violence and thuggery by employers? There's not a lot of high ground to be claimed in this debate.

"Sebastian, you seem pretty full of it to me. For one, in order to effectively prevent management from firing employees w/ union ties I think you might have to eliminate employment at will & create a legal aid society for trying those cases. For another thing, we DO have laws that would work better against intimidation in card check elections than: (1) the status quo, or (2) any proposal I have ever seen, let alone one you'd support."

I don't understand your criticism here. "At will employment" is still limited by certain not-permissible reasons for firing someone. For example you can't fire someone for being black. You can't fire someone for refusing to sleep with the boss. And while I've never worked on any union cases, I'm pretty sure you can't fire someone for legally trying to organize a union. Now if you don't think the penalties for breaking the law are harsh enough, so be it. But that argues for stronger penalties, not removing secret ballots from third parties.

Also, surely you are aware that unions have lots of high-powered lawyers? What is this 'legal-aid society' thing?

"What I don't understand is how the local union is supposed to have all this power to intimidate, hire squads of goons, coerce etc. before it exists."

That is rather easy. They get support from a national group. It isn't as if that has never happened--see the Teamsters. Furthermore it isn't as if very serious violence is something from a generation or two ago in union action: 1995 Lance Young attacked--Teamsters; or the 1993 United Mine Workers strike--Eddie York murdered where the local prosecutor didn't even try the shooters for homicide, merely using a gun in the commission of a crime; or the 1990 NY Daily News strike where drivers were beaten with baseball bats and 50 trucks were set on fire, some with the drivers in them.

Sounds like not-so-fun intimidation is alive and well in union action. It really doesn't make me want to ensure that unions know exactly who votes against them.

"Yes, logically it is possible that there may be someone who would sign a card because they wanted there to be a secret ballot, despite the fact that they opposed the union. If you plan to hang your hat on such perverse voters being a significant enough portion of the workforce to make the incentives in pre-ballot cardchecks different from cardcheck only elections, that's desperately unconvincing."

This isn't just a 'logical possibility' it is hugely likely. What better way to avoid serious union harassment than to sign their annoying card and then vote against them in the secret ballot? Why in the world do you write about that as if it was almost inconceivable?

"Because some union people break the law, folks shouldn't have the right to collectively bargain?"

This is getting annoying. None of the conservatives here have said anything like that. So far, the most any of us have said is that union people shouldn't get to have elections that abandon one of the very most basic protections--secret ballot.

It is really amazing, I can't imagine that you would be so hot to destroy secret ballot in any other imaginable context. Secret ballot exists because it makes coercing the right/wrong people really difficult. You can say whatever you want outside the ballot box, but you can do what you want inside it. Mayors have a lot of coercive power, but I can't imagine that anyone would argue that we should let mayoral opposition candidates break through secret ballot. It is just asking for trouble.

"the record of corporate lawlessness"

You weren't citing any corporate lawlessness relevant to this issue, were you? I thought Slart was referring to union efforts to intimidate non-union workers into joining, which is apposite. I've no idea about the substance of the claim, just its logical weight.

"So far, the most any of us have said is that union people shouldn't get to have elections that abandon one of the very most basic protections--secret ballot."

The right of people to organize as they want seems primary here, and the evidence cited above appears to show that the card check way is best for securing that. If there's a way to put in various other protections (likely-to-be-politically-stable ones, that is) such that a real-world comparison doesn't show that, that's fine by me too. I'm sure the others arguing for card check are doing so simply as a tested way for achieving the fairest result, so the right-to-secret-ballot argument isn't convincing - everybody would like to live in a world where that was the best solution, but.

"I'm sure the others arguing for card check are doing so simply as a tested way for achieving the fairest result, so the right-to-secret-ballot argument isn't convincing - everybody would like to live in a world where that was the best solution, but."

How is this a tested way for the 'fairest' result? No one has made a particularly strong argument about why secret ballot is so damaging. The closest thing I've seen supports the idea the election should be held fairly quickly so that there can't be a sustained (allegedly) misinformation campaign.

The idea that management should be completely barred from making a case is rather unconvincing to me. I don't see why we should bother with the pretense of a democratic system where secret ballot is violated such that only one side knows who voted in what way, and where one side is prevented from making a case. (This second part is true whether you count the other side as the management or the anti-union employees. Card check is designed to make management getting its case across impossible, but it also is structured against anti-union employees. They are not well positioned to make their case to all the other employees because card check is all about face to face pressure with a pen in hand).

This all seems very results oriented. I can't imagine anyone here suggesting abandoning secret ballot and outlawing debate for a side they didn't support. That fact alone makes it procedurally suspect.

If you are going to make debate impossible and let only one side know how individuals vote, why pretend to be democratic at all? You clearly think that having unions is important enough to abandon all the normal democratic protections. Why not just mandate them and be done with it?

"the pretense of a democratic system"

Economic life isn't democratic. No card check advocate here wants to get rid of secret ballots - they want a system that allows people to freely associate and use their economic leverage in legal ways. If you can propose or point to a secret ballot system which will deliver better results than card check by same fairness criteria [e.g. *] given in the data hilzoy quotes above, we'll all say fine, that's the best policy, the govt should institute it if it's practical.

* [Fewer workers in card check campaigns than in elections felt pressure from coworkers to support the union (17% vs. 22%).

Workers in card check campaigns were almost twice as likely as those in elections (62% vs. 33%) to report that management took a neutral position and left the decision to form a union up to workers]

"Fewer workers in card check campaigns than in elections felt pressure from coworkers to support the union (17% vs. 22%).

Workers in card check campaigns were almost twice as likely as those in elections (62% vs. 33%) to report that management took a neutral position and left the decision to form a union up to workers"

As I've already said (I think twice): "This evidence isn't particularly strong because current card-check situations are by permission of the employeer, and thus represent comparing high resistance situations to low resistance situations and finding that the higher resistance situations have higher resistance. That isn't a particularly shocking finding."

And again, what is this 'neutral position'? If the management accurately reports the competitive difficulties, that certainly might not be neutral, but the information is fair to report.

Further it has not been established that the incredibly drastic measure of abolishing the secret ballot for one side of the election is necessary to ameliorate the problem.

"No card check advocate here wants to get rid of secret ballots - they want a system that allows people to freely associate and use their economic leverage in legal ways."

The first phrase is logically incorrect. Card check as formulated is in fact getting rid of secret ballots for an election. Advocating it is expressing a desire to get rid of secret ballots for this type of election. Worse, it is getting rid of secret ballots in such a way that only one side has the information.

Again, I can't imagine people advocating ending secret ballots and giving the voting information to only one side if they weren't 100% certain the information would be going to their side and excluded from the other side. That at least seriously raises the idea that you don't really desire a procedural change, you desire a substantive change. If that is the case, we should be arguing the substantive change, not the procedural smokescreen.

I've offered a number of other changes that can deal with the alleged problems raised. The responses appear to be "the law as currently situated isn't good enough" and "I don't like separation of powers". The first is no response at all since we are already talking about Congress passing new laws to change the situation, and the second is just an attempt to avoid the Constitutional structure of the United States. It also proves too much because there isn't much point in having a union if you can't enforce the laws that make a union special.

1. Sebastian appears to be fetishizing secret ballots -- and in the bargain attempting to cast all other voting methods as illegitimate and undemocratic -- in a way that would be comical if it didn't appear to be argued in support of a seriously imbalanced power structure.

2. This: The idea that management should be completely barred from making a case is rather unconvincing to me. If you really believe that -- and considering Steve's comment concerning the rights of workers to organize -- I'd like to seriously see you defend, in that case, the idea that labor shouldn't get a voice in board composition and executive compensation.

This isn't just a 'logical possibility' it is hugely likely. What better way to avoid serious union harassment than to sign their annoying card and then vote against them in the secret ballot? Why in the world do you write about that as if it was almost inconceivable?

Because you don't have evidence of union harassment to show. You're assuming that union harassment and intimidation is such a problem that it creates this class of people who act against their wishes by signing a card in public but vote against the union in private, but you don't have, e.g., news reports of union violence during card check campaigns, or testimony from people who felt impelled to sign cards despite their opposition to the union, to point to. It's an evidence-free claim.

Secret ballot exists because it makes coercing the right/wrong people really difficult.

Except that all the evidence in this area shows that it makes coercing the people campaigning for the union very easy. You're simply ignoring the facts here.

Declining union membership absent employer coercion can be partially explained (at least over here) by people deciding that they can reap the benefits of unions existing without having to pay union fees. With long strikes becoming rare because of the unions' strong bargaining position, the risk of non-membership is low. Experience shows that only a (relatively) low percentage of workers have to be organized to achieve the positive effects. Unions can get pretty nasty when too powerful but they are rarely worse than the opposition (too strong unions begin to behave like corporations themselves).
All this of course is under the condition of a governemnt in charge that is not actively hostile towards workers and willing to ignore existing laws in favor of employers (as was the case in Bavaria in the past).

It's all a question of a balance that's not going too strongly towards one side.

Concerning unionization in the States. If noone is actually forced to become a member in a forming union, why should the voting process matter or the employer have a say in it? If I understand it correctly, the whole process consists of two steps: 1.Do I want a union in this company? 2.Will I join it, if one is formed?
Everything we discuss here seems to pertain to the first, not to the second.

This is interesting. Americans work a lot more than Europeans but we are a lot happier.

By almost every measure, Europeans do work less and relax more than Americans. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans work 25% more hours each year than the Norwegians or the Dutch. The average retirement age for European men is 60.5, and it's even lower for European women. Our vacations are pathetically short by comparison: The average U.S. worker takes 16 days of vacation each year, less than half that typically taken by the Germans (35 days), the French (37 days) or the Italians (42 days).

However:

Obviously, there is a point beyond which work is excessive and lowers life quality. But within reasonable bounds, if happiness is our goal, the American formula of hard work appears to function pretty well.

This may be one reason why Americans tend to score better than Europeans on most happiness surveys. For example, according to the 2002 International Social Survey Programme across 35 countries, 56% of Americans are "completely happy" or "very happy" with their lives, versus 44% of Danes (often cited in surveys as the happiest Europeans), 35% of the French and 31% of Germans. Those sweet five-week vacations and 35-hour workweeks don't seem to be stimulating all that much félicité. A good old-fashioned 50-hour week might be a better option.

I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this by Jes, Dutch, Hartmut, and any others across the pond. Hartmut – 31%?!? What’s up with that?

I'm kind of dubious about using happiness surveys that way. People in poorer countries with shorter life expetancy & even some pretty war torn countries tend to rate themselves as happier than modern, rich, western countries. Does that mean we need to emulate those countries policies? Given the same level of actual happiness, some personality types will answer to a survey that they are "completely happy" & others will say "pretty happy."

Perhaps I'm biased because our American work ethic is f***ing insane and the main source of unhappiness in my life.

Oh, I see it's an AEI publication. Wow, now I'm angry. Leaving this thread.

"Because you don't have evidence of union harassment to show. You're assuming that union harassment and intimidation is such a problem that it creates this class of people who act against their wishes by signing a card in public but vote against the union in private, but you don't have, e.g., news reports of union violence during card check campaigns, or testimony from people who felt impelled to sign cards despite their opposition to the union, to point to. It's an evidence-free claim."

Except it isn't. First there are reports of union violence in other campaigns, and it would be silly to believe that the violence is carefully maintained in a super-narrow fashion such that threats of it are perfectly excluded from check card. Second there is evidence that people change their mind after signing the card, unions often don't get voted in after that point. You will attribute that wholly to 'management pressure', but considering how secret ballots actually work, that seems deeply unlikely.

And frankly it is deeply insulting to say that I 'fetishize' secret ballot. It is a hugely important protection that is so much a part of our regular understanding of society, that attempts to abolish it for a particular class of people in a super important vote for their life, while giving the information on their vote to only one side, is really suspect. It is like saying that katherine 'fetishizes' the habeas corpus protection. It isn't as if she thinks it is the only important protection in the world. Just important enough that you had better have an overwhelmingly great case about why you want to abridge it. And that case shouldn't be "I don't like the outcome when we are forced to use it". Secret ballot may make it harder for unions to organize. But from the conversation, secret ballot isn't the problem at all, it just looks like a convenient way to try to get the results you want. Well, it isn't just a convenient protection, so I'm pretty sure it would be better to go about it from another direction.

Habeas doesn't exist so that the government can efficiently prosecute criminals. It exists so that non-criminals get heard. Secret ballot doesn't owe its existance to whether or not unions can get elected. It exists so that people can vote what they actually want to vote and in this case so that anti-union votes don't have to directly say "I'm not voting for you". Management doesn't have the power to know how you are voting. And it shouldn't.

Management doesn't have the power to know how you are voting. And it shouldn't.

Actually, it does have a list, going into the secret ballot, of people who've signed cards for the union, so it can focus pressure on/selectively fire them.

Sorry about the italics, there.

italics off.

Moreover, the frequency of firings of union organizers speaks volumes to the success with which management does know who is leading the organizing campaigns, Sebastian's confidence notwithstanding.

Did it work this time?

I would not completely exclude the possibility that it takes less to make an American happy.
That is not meant condescending but could be part of "culture/environment". Usually ethnological surveys come up with maximum happiness for people living under conditions neither Europeans nor US citizens would consider desirable.
It would be interesting to find out how the situation would look like, if the conditions in the US and Europe were swapped. With Europe going towards the US model as a result of globalization, we will see the result for one side sooner or later.
A lot of people turn workaholic as a result of unhappiness (diverting their attention from it).
The German case may not be representative at the moment because the former GDR population is going to distort the picture significantly (as a result of disillusionment, unemployment*) for years to come.

*there was a systematic destruction of the working parts of the Eastern economy by Western companies (supported by the Kohl administration) that wanted to kill potential rivals. That was not through free market mechanisms but more by "going Bremer".

Katherine: Oh, I see it's an AEI publication. Wow, now I'm angry. Leaving this thread.

Wow. It’s actually in the WSJ today but it requires registration ($$) there so I searched to see if the full article was anywhere else online. That is where I found it.

Given that reaction, I’m certainly glad I did not link to Michael Medved’s article at TownHall discussing it.

I’ll have to try to remember that the site an article is hosted on is more important than the article itself. Next time I’ll wait until something is being discussed at Atrios or dKos or somewhere appropriate to link to before bringing it up.

What's insane about only 30% of the population being "very happy" or "completely happy"? Say you're 30% very happy, 50% pretty happy, 10% neutral, 10% depressed--is that really so crazy?

It wasn't the site, it was the combo of the site & the TEXT.

Arthur C. Brooks is a visiting scholar at AEI.

You're right, though, Medved is worse.

I can't believe you fall for this crap. It is so, so, so, so clearly results driven & an excuse for not having remotely decent leave & family policies compared to the rest of the developed world.

There are parts of my job I love, and in some ways I'm amazingly lucky to have the opportunity. I would not consider retiring given the opportunity. Nevertheless, the hours make me crazy, are bad for me, and are bad for my marriage. Why don't you ask a given American if European vacation policies would make them more or less happy... You really think they'll all say, "no, please, don't give me twice as much vacation, or cut my hours back to 40/week, I'm just TOO DELIRIOUSLY HAPPY?" Right. Right. What crap.

Regarding European versus American standards for work, I remember either hearing or reading about a study that showed that Americans actually have more truly free time than Europeans. I'm sorry for not having something to link, but it was something from a year or so ago, and I don't even remember if it was something I read on a blog or hear on the radio or whatever. Anyway, the main thrust was that Europeans spend more time doing things like cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, maintaining homes and cars, etc. than Americans to the point that it overtakes the difference in hours spent "at work." So some portion of the aggregate American employment-related work hours are in service industries that reduce the amount of work other Americans have to do outside of employment-related work. For example, instead of cooking dinner at home, an American is more likely than a European to go to a restaurant. The person cooking at the restaurant is at work, so his cooking counts toward American work-hours. Same with the busboy, dishwasher, waiter/waitress, etc. The European eating at home does the cooking, table setting/clearing, dishwasing on his or her "free time."

World Happiness survey. Nigeria wins! We really need to look at those in-country results, though--if the Northern provinces that implemented sharia scored highest, that's scientific support that it's good policy. And Mexico crushes the United States, incidentally--so clearly this immigration thing will fix itself; people clearly prefer the opportunities in Mexico. El Salvador also outranks us; maybe horrific gang violence is an overblown problem.

I also see that previous winners include Bangladesh. Maybe what we need are some disastrous typhoons and floods to keep our day-to-day problems in perspective. I look forward to AEI's rigorous examinations of the subject.

Katherine: I can't believe you fall for this crap. It is so, so, so, so clearly results driven & an excuse for not having remotely decent leave & family policies compared to the rest of the developed world.

What did I fall for? I thought it was interesting, and given the European regulars here I was interested in their perspective on it. End of story. I did not endorse it, or use it to promote an agenda of any kind. I noted it, said it was interesting, and that I would be interested in the thoughts of Jes, Dutch, Hartmut, etc. I don’t think I fell for anything and I certainly didn’t post it to ruin your day.

I think it's very weak. Obviously, I'm taking it personally & being snippier than is really called for.

I'll never understand why this isn't a bigger political issue.

That Medved piece is quite literally ridiculous.

Anyway, I work with colleagues at my company's offices in Frankfurt, London, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney, many of whom I share great friendships with, and never heard one of them -- literally, never -- express that they would like American-style work hours, vacation policies and family leave policies. Nor do they ever seem unhappy with their work/life balances. Quite the opposite.

When I lived in Germany in 2002 for work, I never found myself without a lot of free time. First of all, people actually took lunches. Like, everyone in the office all went to lunch for an hour. Second, stores weren't open as late, nor were they open Sundays, so you did your shopping right after work, then had your entire evening and most of your weekend free. And, contra hairshirthedonist, a LOT of people went to restaurants all the time. There were a dozen or so restaurants within a couple blocks of the apartment I was staying in, and they were always packed.

Sebastian: First there are reports of union violence in other campaigns

Organizing (card check or election) campaigns, or strikes? If the former, please cite specific examples.

(the counter argument, of course, is that we choose these hours for higher incomes. Based on personal experience I don't think we are actually given that choice on an individual level--not in a simple way. You can't negotiate your own European-style benefits package in return for a lower salary, in practice, & jobs that offer reliably better benefits & lower salaries in the same field are noticeably harder to find.)

On another note, this article is a textbook case of how our immigration laws are under-enforced & unnecessarily ruin people's lives at the same time. The whole idea of prosecutorial discretion just doesn't seem to exist at DHS.

I’ll never understand why this isn't a bigger political issue.

In general I don’t disagree with your sentiments on this, just the way they were presented.

I average 60 hours per week and there is never a good time to take vacation. I haven’t had more than a few days off at a time in many years. Nearly all lunches (and far too many dinners) occur in front of the computer working (I really need to clean the crumbs out of this keyboard before it begins attracting wildlife). Work does interfere with family life, with any life at all. So I’m with you there.

OTOH, if asked if I was happy with my job I would say yes. If asked if I was happy with my life overall I would say yes. I would not take a pay cut in exchange for fewer hours or more vacation. If I won the lottery tomorrow I would not quit my job (I’d scale the hours way back and blow any day off at the drop of a hat).

"You can't negotiate your own European-style benefits package in return for a lower salary, in practice, & jobs that offer reliably better benefits & lower salaries in the same field are noticeably harder to find."

As someone who made a lifestyle choice to take less money for less work, they are 'harder' to find, but not ridiculous. Just look while at your high pressure job, and within a couple of months, you have it. And I did in fact negotiate for extra vacation for slightly less pay, I think lots of people (especially professionals) are just afraid to try.

I would cut my salary in half in a heartbeat for European style vacation & benefits. It's not an option w/o switching fields entirely.

On that immigration story, DHS is actually not actively trying to deport the soldier's wife right now. So prosecutorial discretion apparently does exist to at least a small degree--it's not often exercised in lower profile cases, however.

Seb, the problem is that if you're a salaried employee, it's very hard to know whether the lifestyle benefits will stick, whereas the pay cut definitely will.

Cheney is, apparently, some sort of Class Five Full Roaming Vapor:

The Office of the Vice President has asserted that it is not an “entity within the executive branch” and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders.

Yeah, Ugh, isn't that great? "Unitary executive" indeed.

If they're not in the executive branch, I'm not sure where their classification/declassification power comes from. But this is their entire legal strategy in a nutshell: the war on terror is just like any other war when saying so increases their power, and nothing like any other war when saying so increases they're power. The Vice President is in the executive branch when that increases his power, and not in the executive branch when that increases his power. The NSA is apparently part of the armed forces when it comes to the President's Commander in Chief Power, but not when it comes to the Congressional power to write laws governing the armed forces. etc.

Because some union people break the law, folks shouldn't have the right to collectively bargain?

I said that? I wish I could remember where.

I announce a one hour period of sweetness and light, in which everyone continues to make their best possible argumentswhile channelling their inner Mister Rogers. If somene doesn't have an inner Mister Rogers, I'd be glad to lend you mine. Purely voluntary, of course.

I try and try to be Mr. Rogers, and I'd succeed, too, if it weren't for those other viciously argumentative bastards.

All of whom are welcome to be my neighbor, I might add.

...and I'll even try not to run my mower over their puppies, very often.

What's that, Trolley?

(ding ding ding, jingle jingle, ding)

OCSteve and Sebastians are trying to opress the proletariat? Oh no, how could they?

I think Katherine hasn't quite got into the spirit of things, either.

"I announce a one hour period of sweetness and light, in which everyone continues to make their best possible argumentswhile channelling their inner Mister Rogers."

Do we need to change into cardigans and sneakers? Are we going to get a Picture Picture tour of a union organizing drive? And ... What about Naomi? (oops, sorry wrong PBS Kids show for that last).

Maybe the best we can shoot for is Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood.

More effectively than any Marxist theoretician or crusading labor leader, Mister Rogers was a genius at casting the demons of worker alienation out of America's neighborhood.

Katherine - what just appalls me is that the whole "Vice President is special" argument is that it's not some sort of national scandal. Here Cheney's claiming that he's not part of the executive branch, and IIRC has claimed he's really not some part of the legislative branch either - so he's some mysterious Schrödinger branch that is neither apart from, nor a part of, the gov't, answerable, apparently, to no one - not even Bush (and how this doesn't piss Bush off is a mystery to me as well - though I'm guessing he's totally clueless about it, or thinks it works to his advantage).

I hated Mr. Rogers.

channelling their inner Mister Rogers

I think I like Mister Robinson's Hood better…

Bad link. Mr. Robinson.

Is there an echo in here?

great minds and all ;)

Seeing as how I am doing so well riling things up in this thread I was going to post a comment on how journalists contribute to Democrats by a ratio of 9-1 (shocker!) and how Congress’s approval rating is in the crapper, lower than Bush, the lowest it has ever been since Gallop started tracking it in the 70s…

Then I said to heck with it. It ain’t worth the time I’d spend arguing the points, not on the first day of summer. Instead I’m off to a cool martini bar that has a good view of sunset.

I need a few days off. It seems all I have been doing lately is making people angry, or getting angry at people, and not just here. Time to get off these inter-tubes for a few days. I ban myself for at least 3-4 days. See you all next week.

OCSteve: take a break if you want, but don't do it because you think anyone else would be happier that way ;)

Well, I'm not angry at you, OCSteve, even if you're denying the proletariat their right to oppress the bourgeoisie. Not a neighborly thing to do, I say.

I'm generally dubious of congressional polls, especially the high approval rating generally given when people are asked about their own congressman - as if it's the fools all you other people elect that is the problem.

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