“The NLRB Cancelled My Vote.”
Suppressing votes is something we usually associate with Third World dictators. But closer to home, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington is the one calling off elections.
After working at Kaiser Permanente for 21 years, I was abruptly informed that Service Employees International Union organizers were launching a “card check” drive at my workplace.
Following a 13-day campaign, company officials announced that SEIU organizers had collected enough union cards to become the sole bargaining agent at my office.
In Oregon, this means that everyone — including those of us who did not want to join the SEIU — will have to pay union dues and accept union bargaining just to keep our jobs.
If you’ve never experienced a card check drive in your workplace, you may not know the difference between card check organizing and traditional secret ballot unionization elections.
During a card check campaign, union organizers can pressure employees face to face until they sign cards that are then counted as “votes” for unionization.
I was strongly suspicious of the results of the SEIU’s card check drive from the very beginning. Although union officials claimed to have collected signed cards from a majority of my co-workers, I was never approached by their organizers.
Other colleagues said they felt pressured by SEIU officials to sign cards in favor of unionization. Many were frustrated that we never had a secret ballot vote to determine if we’d unionize.
After talking to attorneys at the National Right to Work Foundation, I decided to collect signatures for a union decertification election. At the time, the NLRB allowed employees like me to petition for a secret ballot vote immediately after a union got in via card check.
This “safety valve” was intended to correct some of the abuses associated with card check organizing — many of which I described above.
After I collected enough signatures to trigger a vote, the NLRB scheduled a secret ballot election for Oct. 4. My co-workers and I were eager to have our say, but the NLRB called the whole thing off before we could vote. It was only later that I learned why.
In the recent Lamons Gasket case, the NLRB voted 3-1 to overturn a precedent that allowed workers like me to demand a secret ballot unionization election following a card check campaign.
I don’t know why the NLRB decided to reverse precedent and end these safety-valve elections. But I do know the decision has had a serious impact on workers across the country.
Several pending union decertification elections were called off before employees had a chance to vote. Other elections that had already taken place were abruptly nullified — the NLRB didn’t even bother to count the ballots.
Choosing whether to unionize is a serious decision, and card check unionization drives are often fraught with misinformation, harassment and even intimidation.
Before the NLRB’s Lamons Gasket decision, workers at least had an opportunity to demand a secret ballot vote following a card check campaign.
Now we don’t even have access to that modest restriction on aggressive union organizing. My co-workers and I are saddled with a union for up to four years before we get another chance to vote.
The NLRB was wrong to cancel our election and deny employees the opportunity to vote on unionization through secret ballot elections. Congress should act immediately to rein in the NLRB and restore my secret ballot.
Barbara Ivey lives in Salem, Ore.