Monday, July 28, 2008

Waiting for Labor('s) Day?

Several months ago, I mentioned the large sum of money being spent by the SEIU on political races throughout the country. Now, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal questions the legality of the manner the SEIU is collecting these funds from its members. (By the way, the sum I mentioned was $75 million. The WSJ raises this to $150 million.)

I am not qualified to make a judgment on the legal issues raised by the Journal editorial writer, but I want to raise a related political issue. SEIU concludes one of its publications with the following depiction of the future: SEIU's health care profile -- and power -- will only continue to grow. After we help elect a pro-worker president and stronger pro-worker majorities in Congress, we will take all our energy, idea, organizing strength, grassroots lobbying and political muscle and make it happen. Next year, 2009, we -- all of us -- will make history. We will achieve quality affordable health care for every man, woman, and child in America.

Well written, for sure, but nowhere in the document does the SEIU mention a very specific and important part of its legislative strategy -- to change the federal law to eliminate the right of workers to vote on whether they want to have a union. The so-called Employee Free Choice Act would undo the long-standing practice under the National Labor Relations Act that provides for an election among the workers to decide if they want union representation.

Here is a story by Kevin Drawbaugh from the Washington Post last year, when the bill was considered by Congress. It appears that the two major Presidential candidates disagree about this bill, but thus far, this issue has not received much coverage or commentary. This is perhaps understandable at this stage in the campaign, but it will be very interesting to see the public's reaction if and when the question is raised in debates and elsewhere as the campaign heats up after, er, Labor Day.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Union maneuvering to expand their ranks in health care provides one more example of special interest groups pushing their own agendas, frequently at the expense of patients. Unionized labor will take root most firmly in academic health centers, where they queu up with other groups justifying their existence by evoking quality, e.g. "more (of us) will improve the quailty of health care". In the absence of clear definitions of and metrics to measure quality, union growth will remain unchecked and quality will be defined politically rather than scientifically. Patients value their own health care more than the professional advancement of special interest groups. We must keep the interests of patients at the forefront of every decision in health care.

Anonymous said...

Re EFCA -- if you don't like the card check proposal, do you have other ideas on fixing what any neutral expert says is a broken system? How about employer neutrality? Mandatory equal time for workplace communication (i.e., if the employer speaks to a worker(s) about the merits of unionization, the company must provide an equal opportunity for the union)? Stiffer penalties for violations? An end to staying NLRB actions pending appeals (which can lead to decades of delay)? Non-exclusive representation, as in some European countries? Or do you just not want workers to join unions?

I really like your blog and thoughts about healthcare policy, so I don't want to seem hostile here. I'm just surprised to see such hostility to EFCA. It's the way bargaining designation is done in Canada and it remedies some documented problems with our labor laws (intimidation, firing pro-union employees, litigation delays, treating fines as a cost-of-business). It's not a totally crazy idea.

Paul Levy said...

I think the current mix of reponsibilities, rights, and obligations under the NLRA is reasonable. Under it, many unions have been created. Also, under it, many times workers decide not to unionize.

As I have said before repeatedly, the issue is not "Or do you just not want workers to join unions?" The issue is showing workers the respect that they deserve by allowing them to have a secret ballot vote on the issue, a mechanism we use in so many other parts of American life precisely because it acts to deter intimidation -- in this case, potentially from both sides.

Anonymous said...

An article in this morning's (Sunday) New York Times reports how unionization of lifeguards on Long Island has reduced safety on Long Island beaches. Unionized lifeguards themselves claim that the union's practice of rewarding union seniority and loyalty over performance has compromised the lifeguards' performance. My experience working in both unionized and non-unionized hospitals suggests that unionization has similar effects on the performance of health care workers. Perhaps we should amend national labor laws to require that performance criteria supercede union loyalty. This could be one of the most important measures to protect the safety of our patients as unions spread into health care.