Union e-vote exploration sets off card-check, business

Business groups are criticizing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for exploring electronic union balloting, charging that workers would be subject to the same kind of intimidation as if card-check legislation were approved. 

At issue is a “request for information” released by NLRB that asks federal contractors how they would administer a union electronic voting system. The notice asks contractors to provide information on how they would implement a system, such as how much it would cost. 

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Business groups opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) immediately argued the move would leave workers subject to intimidation if they are voting on union representation from remote locations. 

NLRB “is going to look for ways to implement, if not the letter of card-check, then its spirit,” said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative. “They will look for ways around the private ballot, taking the worker out of the privacy of the ballot booth. This is just the first step.”

NLRB, in making its request, said the use of electronic voting would be in support of secret-ballot elections. 

“The NLRB’s requirements are for the acquisition of electronic voting services to support conducting secret-ballot elections to determine representation 

issues,” the request says. 

The board also asks federal contractors to work on safeguards to prevent voters from being intimidated if they are casting electronic ballots from a remote location.

“With respect to electronic voting capabilities, the Agency specifically requests information, to the extent available, relating to what safeguards, if any, could be implemented to ensure that votes cast remotely were free from distractions or other interferences, including undue intimidation or coercion,” the notice says. 

Spencer compared the request to a compromise measure that was reportedly floated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-

Calif.) during the EFCA debate last year. 

Feinstein’s proposal would have allowed workers to mail in ballots for union elections. According to Spencer, having electronic union elections would leave workers open to intimidation. 

The Workforce Fairness Institute, another business group, also has blasted the labor board request. 

And in a letter Wednesday to the labor board, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace said union electronic voting could result in worker intimidation.

“Among other adverse impacts, using electronic means to permit off-site, or remote, voting during union organizing elections will subject employees to a level of intimidation and coercion that does not occur during an on-site, private ballot election that is directly supervised by the NLRB,” the coalition said in the letter. “Electronic voting bears a striking resemblance to the card-check scheme.”

A spokesman for the AFL-CIO said the business groups were manipulating the facts.

“Their take on this issue is driven by greed and as falsely based as their take on the Employee Free Choice Act and every other issue. Furthermore, while the board may be looking at ways to modernize voting, it is premature and they are simply manipulating the facts as there is not even a board proposal on this,” Josh Goldstein, an AFL-CIO spokesman, said. 

Spencer said the Chamber is already reaching out to its members outside of Washington to talk about the notice. He said he was at a Chamber-sponsored event Wednesday in New Hampshire and the labor board request was a big topic of discussion. 

“We are already out working the grass roots on this issue, just telling people, ‘Hey, you may have thought that card-check is dead, but they are trying to bring it back,’ ” Spencer said. 

Spencer said he plans to host similar briefings for state and local chamber leaders in up to 11 states in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. Unlike the battle against EFCA, pushing against the Obama administration’s labor regulations is more like “attritional warfare” in that it encourages people to write letters to newspaper editors, attend agencies’ field stakeholder meetings and file public comments on proposed rules, Spencer said. 

“We are letting people know how the rulemaking process works and letting them know how they can intervene in that process,” Spencer said. 

According to the labor board notice, the labor board could not estimate the size of the contract for electronic elections. The notice said that if NLRB decides to proceed, the contract would be for at least a year.