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The Truth About Card Check

There's a hot debate getting hotter over how unions should be formed in America. Progressives say "card check" -- a system in which a union gets a majority (or a super-majority) to sign cards supporting the formation of the union in order for the union to be recognized -- is preferable. The rightwing says secret elections -- occuring only after cards have been signed by many workers to request the election and after a long campaign period in which employers have a free hand to deluge workers with propaganda in the workplace while unions have little to no ability to have face-to-face contact -- are the way to go. Now, part of this is that card check is better for unions, which progressives support, and elections are better for employers, who the rightwing represents. But there's more to it than that: As Ezra notes today, card check is significantly better than elections when it comes to decreasing worker intimidation, by either unions or employers. Three organizations polled workers (both pro-union and anti-union) who had recently gone through unionization campaigns (either card check or election campaigns). During election campaigns, nearly half of workers said they were coerced "a great deal" by management. During card check campaigns, only 14% said they were coerced "a great deal" by the union. Ezra breaks down more data, but those are the key points. There's several takeaway lessons. First, whether in elections or card check campaigns, workers always face more coercion from employers than they do from unions. Second, in election campaigns, 46% of workers complain of intimidation from employers alone. In card check campaigns, 37% of workers complain of intimidation from unions and management combined (in this case, over half of those complaints are still related to intimidation from management). Ezra notes that "neither option is perfect." That's not the question. We don't live in a land of perfection. We live in a world of competing, sub-perfect options. The goal isn't to craft public policy that creates perfect outcomes, but better outcomes than the competing alternatives. But if the goal of our labor policies is to create one that respects workers' freedom both to form unions and to be free from intimidation, card check is clearly preferable. If the goal is to undermine unions, elections are clearly preferable.