Neutrality Agreements: Bid for Union Power
Neutrality Agreements Are an Insult and Injustice to Employees
APRIL 01, 2003 by DAVID DENHOLM
David Denholm is the president of the Public Service Research Foundation (www.psrf.org), an independent research and education organization that studies unionism and union influence on public policy.
All across the land organized labor is using political influence to push for public policies that facilitate imposing unionism on employees. One such policy requires employers doing business with government or participating in a government-sponsored program to sign so-called neutrality agreements.
The essence of a neutrality agreement is that the employer will say and do nothing to discourage employees from seeking union representation. An Illinois law mandating a neutrality agreement for anyone who contracts with the state to provide services to the disabled defines it as “an agreement by a contractor or grantee not to participate in or request or otherwise seek to influence, either in writing or orally, the decision of its employees, or any of them, to be represented or not to be represented by a labor organization.”
A typical provision in a neutrality agreement reads, “The Company agrees to refrain from making negative public statements concerning the Union and any [union] officer, representative or member.”
Neutrality agreements are not in the general interest and certainly not in the interest of the most important people affected by them—employers and employees. The wrongness can be clearly seen by examining the nature of employment. There are two parties to the employment relationship: the employer and the employee. Few employment-related decisions employees make are as important as whether to be represented by a union. It is likely that the employer will have information employees ought to know about this decision. Neutrality agreements make it impossible for employers to provide this information.
Most neutrality agreements also contain a provision granting union recognition on the basis of what is known as a “card check” election. In a card-check election unions gain recognition on the basis of signed cards rather than by a secret balloting. These elections compound the injustice of neutrality agreements by denying workers the vote on whether to be represented by a union.
The unions contend that card-check elections are necessary because employers use threats and intimidation to influence the results of government-supervised secret-ballot elections. They conveniently choose to ignore that unions are notorious for using subtle forms of moral suasion, which are frequently neither subtle nor moral, to obtain signatures on authorization cards.
That authorization cards are not a reliable indicator of employee sentiment is demonstrated by several studies showing that unions lose most elections, even when a narrow majority of workers sign authorization cards.
The Decline of Unionism
Neutrality agreements are an insult and injustice to employees. They are a desperate attempt by unions to use their political power to shore up their sagging fortunes.
Unionism has been declining for more than 50 years. The unionized percentage of the labor force has fallen from about 30 percent in the mid-1950s to less than 14 percent in 2001. The extent of the decline of unionism in the private sector has been masked by the growth of unions in public employment.
In the mid-1950s unions represented almost 40 percent of employees on private payrolls. By 2001 that figure had fallen to 9 percent. During the same time, unionism among public employees increased from almost 11 percent to more than 37 percent.
Even though the size of the workforce has more than doubled since the mid-1950s, the number of union members has actually declined by more than a million. Because of the increase in more politically active public-sector unions, however, unions have remained a powerful political force. As membership declines, union officials have emphasized using political pressure to establish public policies they believe will allow them to organize more effectively.
By and large, the working people of America have rejected organized labor’s class-warfare, us-against-them approach to employment relations. The majority of employees have chosen not to be represented by unions. A 1999 Gallup poll found that of those not represented by a union, only 21 percent would like to be. Even the AFL-CIO’s own public-opinion surveys find that the majority of workers don’t want union representation.
This conclusion is confirmed by the results of elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Even though organized labor says that it is putting more emphasis on organizing, the number of NLRB elections has been declining in recent years. Despite this decline, the NLRB still conducts thousands of union-representation elections each year. Although NLRB elections are held only in bargaining units where a union has been organizing and believes it has a chance to win, unions only win about half the elections. But that isn’t really a clear reflection of employee sentiment. Because unions win more elections in small bargaining units and lose more in larger units, far fewer than half the employees voting in these elections vote for union representation.
Labor unions and politicians dependent on union political power favor neutrality agreements and card-check elections, and there is little wonder why. By limiting employees’ access to important information and then denying them the vote, unions are far more likely to gain certification and the power and dues that go with it.
Anyone genuinely concerned about the interests of working Americans will reject these practices as the insult and injustice they are.