Today, Labor Secretary nominee Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) appeared before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) committee for her confirmation hearing. During the hearing, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) questioned the need for the Employee Free Choice Act — which Solis co-sponsored in Congress last year — because, according to the National Labor Relations Board, unions win 60 percent of contested union elections:
The National Labor Relations Board data indicates that in 2007 unions won over 60 percent of contested elections held. Further, based on recently released data on elections held during the first half of 2008, unions have been winning 66.8 percent of elections. Now, if employer interference is so prevalent, how can unions win such a high percentage of elections?
Bear in mind that Hatch has said he “can’t think of a more insidious bill in my time in Congress” than the Employee Free Choice Act. And while his statistic of choice is correct, it tells very little about the plight of workers looking to organize.
For starters, if unionizing is so easy, why is only 7.5 percent of the American workforce unionized, when 60 million American workers say they would join a union if they could? Employer interference has something to do with it, as 92 percent of employers facing a union drive force employees to attend closed-door meetings with supervisors, while 75 percent hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns “often based on mass psychology and distorting the law.” All of this occurs before a vote ever takes place.
But that’s not the whole story either. Another huge hurdle is getting an employer to simply allow a vote. 40 percent of the time unionization drives end without workers ever getting a chance to vote. As Mary Beth Maxwell, Executive Director of American Rights at Work, explained during an interview with C-Span:
We literally have cases where workers have been trying to form a union and, because of delays and delays and appeals and appeals on the part of the employer to try and prevent that from happening, it takes two years, five years, seven years.
Workers at Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel, NC spent 15 years trying to organize, but in the end had a successful vote. By Hatch’s logic, that’s fair enough. But even if workers who want a union deal with employer interference, actually vote, and successfully unionize, they still are not out of the woods. One-third of the time, “employers do not negotiate a contract,” even after a union has been formed.
But none of this seems to matter to Hatch, who is content with his 60 percent figure. Incidentally, if the Employee Free Choice Act were to pass, it’s estimated that 10,689 more workers in Hatch’s state of Utah would have access to health insurance and 8,255 would have access to a pension.