A couple days ago, Megan McArdle and I got into a heated argument over the morality of card-check legislation. Card-check is a top union priority that would effectively abolish the current system of employer-controlled union elections and create a situation where, if 50+1% of workers signed a card asking for a union, they've got a union. Megan found this -- and I quote -- "morally abhorrent," mainly because the ballot is not secret, and so unions can intimidate. My concerns fell much more with the current, constant, and far more effective intimidation tactics of employers. Research shows that, when threatened with a union, 30% of employers fire pro-union workers, 49% threaten to close down, 51% use bribery or favoritism to tilt the election, and 82% hire unionbusting consultants. Now that's what I call morally abhorrent.
Today I found some interesting data with strong bearing on the argument. A poll commissioned by American Rights at Work (a pro-union org), Rutgers University, and Jesuit Wheeling University surveyed 430 randomly-selected workers from worksites where employees had sought unions either through the NLRB election process or card-check. The survey included workers who voted both for and against the union, and included campaigns in which the unions both won and lost. The Eagleton Research Center and Rutgers conducted the calls over a couple of weeks in 2005.
The results were telling: 22% of workers surveyed said management "coerced them a great deal.' 6% said the same for unions. During the NLRB election, 46% of workers complained of management pressure. During card check elections, 14% complained of union pressure. Workers in NLRB elections were twice as likely as workers in card check elections to report that management coerced them to oppose (it's worth noting that in card-check elections, 23% of workers complained of management coercion -- more than complained of union coercion). Workers in NLRB elections were more than 53% as likely to report that management threatened to eliminate their jobs.
Even more interesting, fewer workers in card check campaigns said coworkers pressured them to join the union (17% to 22%). Workers in card check elections were more than twice as likely to report the employer took a neutral stance and let the workers decide. So, in fairness to Megan, neither option is perfect. But these results show that one is decidedly less perfect than the other.