Workers have long sought the protection of unions to provide safer working conditions, fair wages, and certain other legal protections. Traditionally, "unionizing" requires employees to come together as a bargaining unit to produce a majority decision in favor of joining the union. There are two ways in which this is usually accomplished. The first method--known colloquially as “majority sign-up”--is a process that requires employees to sign public cards expressing their desire to be represented by a union. After a certain percentage of votes have been registered on this public card, the employer may grant employees the right to unionize. The second method available to workers is the National Labor Relation Board's (NLRB) election process, where employees cast secret ballots to determine whether to unionize.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), however, if the NLRB verifies that more than 50 percent of workers have signed the preliminary authorization cards, the secret election process is bypassed and a union is automatically formed. This is where the named “card-check” originates: from checking the results of employee’s cards. The bill has sparked generous amounts of controversy since its introduction to Congress in 2005 and its reintroductions in 2007 and 2009.
As an original co-sponsor of the EFCA bill, then-Senator Barack Obama urged his fellow Congressmen to pass the bill, explaining, "I support this bill because in order to restore a sense of shared prosperity and security, we need to help working Americans exercise their right to organize under a fair and free process and bargain for their fair share of the wealth our country creates. The current process for organizing a workplace denies too many workers the ability to do so. The Employee Free Choice Act offers to make binding an alternative process under which a majority of employees can sign up to join a union."
Naturally, however, this piece of legislation is not without its detractors. The major opposition to card check is threefold. First, opponents generally maintain that the card-check process increases the risk of coercion. If the public card check vote fast-tracks the unionizing process, then employees are at a much greater risk to have personal pressured applied to them to vote for a union--regardless of their preference. Second, an exclusive card-check process denies employees the fundamental American right to private ballots. Third, employee's decisions to join a union should, ultimately, be a private matter.
Unionizing is a lengthy process that is often wrought with shadiness--both from employers reluctant to see their employees unionize and from unions looking to open new lines of revenues. Whether or not “card check” is the best manner of legislative reform to fix this process is hotly contested. While the bill has been unpopular during all three of its iterations, there is still a strong majority of backers in Congress that could push the EFCA to fruition. It’s an exciting time in labor reform, so inform yourself by staying current with the latest commentaries, analysis, and reports.