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A recent article in Politico’s labor and employment blog Morning Shift revealed an interesting, and also illustrative, tale involving Vox Media, whose employees are trying to form a union. According to the report, the management of the company is resisting the pro-union staffers’ effort to organize using signature cards—i.e., card check—and instead is insisting on the traditional secret ballot election process supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). That stance stoked the ire of the employees, who took to Twitter to lambast their employer.
The so-called Vox Media Union tweeted a letter from management that outlined several concerns about forgoing an NLRB election. In the letter, management wrote, “[w]hile we understand your preferred method is to move toward a union by voluntary recognition, in our research about unionizing efforts at other companies, an NLRB election would allow us a moderated avenue to address our concerns about the bargaining unit, and offer a fair process for all employees….We are confused as to why an NLRB election would not be considered.”
In its tweet, the union replied: “We're disappointed Vox Media is union busting by pretending they don’t understand why an NLRB election is unacceptable.” It went on to respond on its own web site saying the management “letter is full of union-busting language and misrepresentations about the process of voluntary recognition and card check…. That a forward-thinking company like this one would try to use the federal government to muck up a union organizing process is hypocritical, redundant, and distrustful of its own employees.”
In particular, the pro-union employees noted that Vox editor-at-large and founder Ezra Klein was an outspoken supporter of card check back when it was a major public policy issue in the mid-2000s and the early part of President Obama’s term. In fact, they tweeted a link to an article Klein wrote in 2006 advocating card check.
In that article, Klein wrote about the “morality of card-check legislation” in response to a debate he had with Megan McArdle, a journalist working for The Economist at the time. Klein outlined the results of a research survey purporting to demonstrate that management pressures employees to a far greater degree than labor unions during organizing drives. He stated: “[d]uring the NLRB election, 46% of workers complained of management pressure. During card check elections, 14% complained of union pressure.”
Klein’s conclusion was that “neither option is perfect. But these results show that one is decidedly less perfect than the other,” presumably meaning that an NLRB election is the “decidedly less perfect” option.
Fast forward to 2017, and it would appear that Klein’s colleagues in management have discovered that perhaps a secret ballot election would not be so bad after all. As other employers understand well, the NLRB process allows an opportunity for management to make its case to employees about the pros and cons of unionization, which organized labor dislikes, to put it mildly. Moreover, it provides employees the opportunity to cast their vote for or against a union without pressure from either side. Why a union would find fairness and privacy “unacceptable” is anyone’s guess.
Unions and their allies on the Hill have introduced a new version of card check, which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to make his top priority should he become majority leader in 2019. If the union saga at Vox remains unresolved at such time, one wonders if Klein will still be singing the praises of card check.