Marble Falls The Holy Grail for union organizers in the United States for decades despite years of fruitless efforts to change labor law has been winning card check recognition. In Congress, we have never come particularly close despite repeated efforts and promises, most of which wilt in the face of determined corporate opposition and donations.
Simply put, card check means that when a majority of workers sign union authorization cards or enroll in union membership within a workplace bargaining unit, once these cards and signatures are verified by either the employer or the labor board, then the employer is compelled to recognize the union as the certified exclusive bargaining representative of the workers in that bargaining unit. Currently, US labor law can allow such recognition only if the employer agrees to recognize the union based on their verification of the cards to their employee list. It’s not impossible and it happens, more in some sectors and areas of the country than others, but it doesn’t happen every day. More usually, as Starbucks workers are demonstrating, a threshold of 30% of the potential workers in a bargaining unit sign authorization cards and file for an election with the NLRB. After an excruciatingly difficult campaign, if the union and its supporters hold on, and 50% plus one of the workers who vote, mark YES for the union, then, after some hems and haws, the union may be certified.
In the Canadian province of British Columbia, card check, or what some there call “single-step certification”, has been in force off and on, depending on the government in power, meaning usually the NDP or New Democratic Party. As of June, this year, once again the sun is shining in British Columbia. If unions present 55%
signed authorization cards, then, bam, the union is certified with no never mind. If unions present between 45 and 55% signed cards in the bargaining unit, then an election is held to determine whether 50% plus one vote for union certification. Not surprisingly when single-step has been in force, unions density has increased in the past. Now of course, it’s too early to tell, although unions are saying that inflation is also driving an uptick of interest and action from existing bargaining units.
The NLRB General Counsel has indicated in some interviews that she believes that the existing law should allow recognition when a majority have signed authorization cards, but for all the new aggressiveness of the Board in general, that case hasn’t evolved, at least not yet. The takeaway from experience in British Columbia in the past or now, is clear though: it’s not the end of the world or the rack and ruin of private business. This is no magic wand, where all workers suddenly are union members. It’s still hard work all around. Businesses can and do still stall in bargaining for an agreement. Canadian organizers often say that’s where the union has to prove its strength, not in the election, which more properly aligns the bargaining and representation. But, even with card check, the world keeps spinning on its axis about the same, no matter the hue and cry that greets such a prospect down south in the United States.