UPMC employees, beware of card check
The ongoing effort to unionize the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has taken a turn to the theatrical after the SEIU announced that two union supporters would hold a seven-day hunger strike. This publicity stunt is designed to grab headlines, but such stories will likely obscure the real motive behind the SEIU's campaign.
SEIU organizers' ultimate goal is to push UPMC employees into union ranks and force them to pay dues just to get or keep a job at the hospital. Pennsylvania lacks a Right to Work law, which means that if UPMC is unionized, the SEIU could have hospital employees fired for refusing to pay union dues.
To get a forced dues clause, the SEIU must first become the exclusive bargaining agent for UPMC workers. Under federal labor law, this can happen in one of two ways.
The traditional method is a secret-ballot vote. A union simply has to collect petitions in favor of unionization from 30 percent of employees in a bargaining unit. Union organizers then submit the petitions to the National Labor Relations Board, which schedules and supervises a unionization election.
Under a secret-ballot election, union officials have a chance to make their case, as does the employer. Moreover, workers can make their choice in the privacy of the ballot booth, without any union official, organizer or company official knowing their choice.
Unfortunately for UPMC employees, it's increasingly clear that SEIU organizers' endgame is forced unionization through the unreliable and often coercive card check method. Under card check, union organizers are able to pressure workers face to face until they sign authorization cards. These cards are then counted as “votes” for unionization. Workers report that union organizers often resort to bribes, threats and misleading promises to get the cards signed.
But there is a catch. To win recognition through a card check campaign, union organizers must first persuade an employer to accept the cards they've collected as votes and waive its right to hold a secret-ballot election.
This is where the SEIU's theatrics come in. The SEIU and its allies have repeatedly attacked UPMC in an apparent effort to force management to agree to a card check unionization drive. Protests that block traffic, hunger strikes and public attacks on UPMC's tax status are just the most visible examples of the SEIU's card check campaign.
Such campaigns often include frivolous legal charges, attacks on the quality of services provided by nonunionized workers and denouncements by union political and community allies. The SEIU's strategy is to attack UPMC until management relents and agrees to forgo a secret ballot election in favor of card check.
The National Right to Work Foundation, which provides free legal assistance to employees across the country, is broadcasting television commercials to warn UPMC workers about the dangers of card check. UPMC employees should be able to vote their conscience without fear of retaliation, coercion or harassment from union organizers. That's why they should stand up to the SEIU's underhanded efforts to organize their facility via card check.
If union officials can't win through a secret-ballot vote, they don't deserve to win at all.
Mark Mix is president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.