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When an employer signs a neutrality agreement with a union, workers have nowhere to turn.

From unions to corporate shareholders who have given into union demands and pro-union bureaucrats at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) workers are increasingly on their own.

The reason for this is explored in "How Neutrality and Card Check Agreements Harm the American Worker"  a paper recently published by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.

Neutrality agreements and the card check process they enable deprive employees of information necessary for making informed decisions about unionization and worse, it opens the door to intimidation by taking away workers’ right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections.

Neutrality agreements often require employers to accept a process called card check, which replaces NLRB-supervised secret ballot elections. Card check is an open petition process which leaves employees vulnerable to organizing campaigns that are rife with coercion and deception. Card check can fail to reflect employees' true wishes, undermining the democratic principles on which fair representation should be built.

Examples of problems with card check include employees being told to sign a card simply to say they attended a union meeting or to get a free t-shirt. Worse, the study documented testimony from a February 8, 2007 U.S. House of Representatives Committee hearing which detailed that the United Auto Workers had “union employees from other facilities actually visit … employees at their homes. The union’s organizers refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer. ... Some employees have had 5 or more harassing visits from these union organizers.”

The testimony also noted that "[v]isits to the homes of employees who didn’t support the union were used to frustrate them and put them in fear of what might happen to them, their family, or homes if they didn’t change their minds about the union. In most cases, constant pressure at work and home was enough to make workers break and at least stop talking against the union— neutralizing them…”

If a majority of employees sign cards, even under circumstances that can be questionable, and the employer agrees to recognize a union, that union now gets a monopoly to represent all workers at the workplace.

In addition to denying workers a private vote, neutrality agreements also deny workers critical information.

Unions have developed a strategy to silence employers and keep workers in the dark. Neutrality agreements require an employer to stay neutral while the union attempts to organize the workers. The report notes these agreements “prohibit employers from providing facts to workers to correct false or misleading statements made by the union.”

It also means employers can’t give employees other information such as past union corruption scandals, or excessive union executive compensation. And while employers are prohibited from making promises to workers in a union election, union reps can promise the moon to win votes in an organizing election. “Unions enjoy wide latitude in their messaging to employees, including misstating fact and law,” according to the report.

Why would employers voluntarily enter into these neutrality agreements, which are so obviously unfair to American workers? Pressure.

Unions have developed a tactic called a “corporate campaign” designed to pressure companies to enter these arrangements. Corporate campaigns can be quite ruthless.

“Outside pressure can involve jeopardizing relationships between the employer and lenders, investors, stockholders, customers, patients, tenants, politicians or others on whom the employer depends for funds,” the authors quote former Service Employee International Union (SEIU) President John Sweeney as saying.

Some companies find it in their interest to sacrifice the rights of their workers in exchange for unions ramping down these kinds of intense pressure tactics.

Not content to depend on these pressure campaigns, the NLRB's General Counsel has signaled she wants to effectively mandate neutrality agreements though administrative fiat by banning employer meetings on unionization. She has also noted her desire to make card check easier and make it more difficult for employees to have a secret ballot election.

The core principle of the federal labor law is to provide employees with the freedom to choose whether they wish to be part of a union, devoid of any fear of retaliation or coercion.

Neutrality agreements and especially card check deny employees that freedom. Unfortunately, instead of pushing back against card check and fighting to make sure that employees are informed and hear both sides of the story on unionization, the NLRB – which is supposed to be a neutral arbitrator in federal labor relations -- is doing the opposite. They are picking winners and losers and unfortunately the losers are workers.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is President of the Institute for the American Worker. 

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