Labor Law Should Protect Employees, Not Union Bosses

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Karen Cox

In spring 2012, my co-workers and I were forced to join a labor union without a vote. Three years later, our secret-ballot votes to remove that union from our workplace were destroyed by the National Labor Relations Board.

This is the reality of our country’s labor law in 2015: Outdated rules designed to favor labor unions rather than employees. It’s time for that to change.

I work as a lift-truck operator at a cold-storage facility in Illinois. It’s a good job, and the work environment was positive before all this began. There may be some places where a union is needed; in my place of work, though, joining a union was the furthest thing from my mind.

That’s why I was shocked when I came into work one day in 2012 and the union was just there. I was aware that co-workers were trying to bring a union in, but I thought there would be time to prepare for an election and educate myself and others. I soon learned that there’s a loophole in our country’s labor law called “card check,” which allowed the union to bypass a secret-ballot vote by gathering signed union cards from just over half of my co-workers.

Here’s the catch: Many of the people who signed those cards had no idea that the union could take their signatures and set up shop in our workplace. Rather, they were told it was just a sign-up to get information about a union that would possibly be representing them.

This wasn’t right. In fact, it was un-American. So my co-workers and I petitioned the government to decertify the union by a secret-ballot vote.

This wasn’t an easy task: I faced serious workplace harassment while collecting the signatures needed to authorize the vote. The union even called my dad and threatened that his daughter better settle her grievances with the union, lest people lose their jobs.

Getting the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret-ballot election proved challenging. But with the help of my attorney from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, we were able to get a secret-ballot election on our third petition. We took the vote to decertify the union in August 2013, but the board in Illinois impounded the ballots and locked them up in Peoria while it addressed the union’s appeal.

We’ll never find out if we won: The union-friendly National Labor Relations Board ruled that our votes didn’t count, arguing that the union did not have enough time to bargain when I filed the petition that got us an election. This objection wasn’t true: The union had so much time to bargain that our contract was already scheduled for a ratification vote. But the board ignored those facts, and now we’re stuck with the union.

Unfortunately, I’m not the only employee forced to contend with a legal system that’s tilted in favor of well-funded union organizations. Basic principles of fairness and honesty are being ignored. So I support a proposal introduced recently in Congress called the Employee Rights Act.

The ERA would guarantee that no union could be established without a secret-ballot vote of employees. The organizers who misled my co-workers into signing cards with claims that they were only for information won’t be able to do that under ERA. Combined with six other reforms that give individual employees rights and a voice in the workplace, the ERA ensures that unions represent employees rather than political special interests in Washington.

I’m not necessarily opposed to unions. What I am opposed to are unions that lack the majority support of employees sneaking into a workplace without a secret-ballot vote, and then gaming the system to keep employees from having a say.

My co-workers and I were denied a fair and private vote. I don’t want other employees to face this same injustice. That’s why I support the Employee Rights Act.

Karen Cox is an Oregon resident.