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Behind the Dispute over Union Election Methods Affecting 2015 Annual Meeting

Friday, May 15, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
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In a recent letter to AFS members and annual meeting registrants addressing the continuing labor dispute at the site of the 2015 AFS annual meeting, Westin Long Beach management states that UNITE HERE Local 11 "has launched a boycott campaign against [the] hotel because [the hotel] will not agree to [the union's] demands for a card check and neutrality agreement.” This statement raises a point of contention common to union-organizing situations—the preferred mechanism for determining whether employees want to be represented by the union—about which AFS members may wish to educate themselves before making plans for this year’s annual meeting.

The issue at stake is the type of election that will be used to determine whether the Westin will become unionized. Hotel management is advocating for the use of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)–supervised secret-ballot election, a system typically preferred by employers. In this system, union organizers would need to collect signatures from at least 30% of Westin employees (employees deemed eligible to be part of the "bargaining unit,” which would exclude supervisors and managers) demonstrating support for the union. After verifying the petition, the NLRB would schedule a secret-ballot election, which it would also supervise, to take place at the Westin "on the earliest practicable date.” A majority vote in favor of unionization would mean that the Westin would have to recognize UNITE HERE as the official bargaining agent of its employees.

According to Westin management, UNITE HERE is advocating for the card-check (or majority sign-up) system, which is generally the preferred method of unions. Under this system, UNITE HERE organizers would ask employees to sign authorization cards indicating their support of a union, and would ask the Westin to agree to recognize the union if more than 50% of its employees signed cards, which a third party would verify. Requests for card-check elections often include a request for employer neutrality; UNITE HERE would ask the Westin to agree not to discuss unionization with its employees and to have access to the premises in exchange for concessions, such as a promise from the union not to picket the hotel or make attempts to disrupt its business.

Both sides in the disagreement insist that the other side’s preferred election method is coercive and undemocratic. Opponents of the card-check system argue, for instance, that it does not provide employees with necessary privacy protections, that it allows union organizers to collect signatures from employees who may not fully understand what they’re agreeing to, and at worst, that it may expose workers to harassment and intimidation from union organizers. Critics of the secret-ballot system often suggest that it does not account for the power imbalance between employers and employees, allowing management to delay elections until pro-union sentiments have decreased, to influence votes by making implicit threats about employees’ job security if unionization occurs, and to harass and punish employees who have been identified as union supporters.

Recognizing that many members and meeting registrants have indicated a desire to know more about the labor dispute, we’re posting the following sources to provide some background information on or analysis of the two election systems and the state of contemporary US labor relations. AFS is not endorsing the viewpoints expressed in any of these sources. They are not intended to provide a comprehensive overview, but an introduction to the topic. AFS members and potential annual meeting attendees who have further questions about the UNITE HERE-Westin labor dispute are encouraged to use this information as a starting point for their own research, or to contact the union and the hotel directly.

Note: Several of these sources discuss the Employee Free Choice Act, a 2009 legislative bill that sought to reform the National Labor Relations Act. At the heart of the bill, which did not pass Congress, was a provision for the card-check system.

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