There's been a bit of a back and forth over at Marc Ambinder's blog about EFCA and how pollsters frame the Employee Free Choice Act.
And, surprise surprise, one side (you'll never guess which) is using a dishonest frame and basically lying about what EFCA would do.
It's probably important to explain what EFCA is, and what it is not.
Since the National Labor Relations ACt was passed, there have been two ways to join a union. Either through a secret ballot election, or through "card check". However, employers have been able to force secret ballot elections even if a majority of their employees have already signed up via card check. The end result is that forming unions is more difficult and thus, less likely.
EFCA is meant to make it easier to join a union. It DOES NOT ELIMINATE secret ballot elections. In fact, if a certain percentage of employees would rather have a secret ballot than "card check", they can get one.
Now, in his original posting on the subject, Ambinder points out the very different ways the pro and anti-EFCA forces try to frame the debate.
The AFL-CIO's polling firm, Hart Research Associaties, asks respondents whether they'd support legislation that "[a]llows employees to have a union once a majority of employees in a workplace sign authorization cards indicating they want to form a union."
75% say yes.
Great news, right? 75% of those polled support EFCA.
Then again, maybe not:
Pollster John McLaughlin, working for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, (asks) the question this way: "There is a bill in Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act which would effectively replace a federally supervised secret ballot election with a process that requires a majority of workers to simply sign a card to authorize organizing a union and the workers' signatures would be made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Do you support or oppose Congress passing this legislation?"
74% say no.
Now, both sides of this debate obviously have their own agendas. And both sides have plenty of money to conduct polls to determine the best way to "sell" their argument to an America that largely doesn't know what EFCA is or why its needed in the first place. So, how the question is framed, is very important to whether or not the legislation is going to pass.
The AFL-CIO's definition of the legislation leaves out some details -- namely, that workers participating in card check events won't be able to keep their choices a secret.
The CDW definition includes loaded language implying that their co-workers and bosses could intimidate them into signing the card.
It's at this point, where things get really fun. Because Mike Murphy (yes, that mike murphy) decided to send an email to Marc explaining why the anti-EFCA framing is the correct one.
The AFL polling -- despite the great polling skills of my pal Peter Hart -- asks a very generic question about employee rights. We focus on the way a worker's life would actually change if this bill passes and the secret ballot that is the usual situation in unionizing efforts today essentially vanishes. I think our more specific question is far more predictive.
In response, a pro-EFCA pollster named Guy Molyneux responds to Murphy with a rather detailed take down of Murphy and the anti-EFCA poll.
But, since brevity is a virtue I'll just quote the most important parts:
Most importantly, the central claim is simply false, as you say in your post: the law does not replace or eliminate elections. That alone invalidates the question as a measure of public opinion.
It's true that we don't ask about secret ballot elections one way or the other, but that's because -- as you note -- the Employee Free Choice Act does not eliminate such elections. It simply removes employer's ability to prevent a card check election, and thus effectively makes card check available to all employees. Hence our focus on that process.
So, EFCA does not eliminate secret elections. So conducting a poll about whether or not you'd support a program that did eliminate secret ballots really isn't helpful, or relevant, to the EFCA debate.
But, despite all this, Mike Murphy still doesn't get it.
I think Guy misses the big point here; the part of EFCA that really counts is the likely elimination of the secret ballot in most future union organizing elections.
He then goes on to offer to help pay for a new poll in which they include false language about EFCA eliminating secret ballots.
I'll make this offer: If the AFL-CIO/Hart Research team re- tests the same ballot question they have released to the media, but adds the critical phrase "which would eliminate the secret ballot workers now utilize in most union organizing elections" to their question and then release the findings from this more accurate question to the media, I'll chip in $5,000 toward the cost of the conducting this poll.
No Mike. You're the one missing the big point here. EFCA, as pointed out not only by the pro-EFCA pollster, in his lengthy response to you, but also by the "moderator" of this debate in his original post on the subject, WONT ELIMINATE SECRET BALLOTS. So why on earth would they conduct a poll suggesting it did?
I can understand the anti-EFCA force's problem. Without the boogeyman of big labor "eliminating" secret ballots, they've got nothing to demagogue. They think they can win the fight if they can get enough people to believe that EFCA is just an undemocratic handout to labor to help fill their coffers and get more union-friendly democrats elected.
But that's not the case. And lying about it, repeatedly, won't ever make it so.
UPDATE: Commenter JWISHBONE helps sort this out.
Let me start by saying that I am a Dem, am very liberal, and support EFCA. However, I am also a labor lawyer, so I know exactly what EFCA is.
Anyone who says that EFCA does not eliminate the "secret ballot" is being a tad dishonest. That statement is technically correct, but practically, there will be no more secret ballot elections if EFCA passes in its current form.
The way it works now is as follows:
A union will ask employees to sign union authorization cards - cards that permit the union to represent the employee. If at least 30% of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit sign cards, the Union can petition the NLRB for an election. Practically, unions very rarely petition for an election unless they have 60-80% of employees sign cards, because during the election period (usually about 6 weeks), the union almost always loses some support (often times at the hands of employer unlawful activity). If 50% plus one sign cards, the employer can (but usually does not) recognize the union.
Union authorization cards are solicited by union organizers. The employer never sees them. It's basically the same thing as someone coming to your house and saying "Please sign this document that says you will vote for Barack Obama for president." In this situation, you might say "Great, I love Obama, I'll sign that," and you might mean it. You might also say the same thing but not mean it, and sign the thing just to get the person to leave you alone. Or you might say "Sorry, I'm voting for John McCain." The sign it so they'll leave me alone option happens very often though.
Under EFCA, if 50% plus one of employees sign cards, the Union is in. This is true even if 20% of the people who signed cards signed them just so the union organizer would stop bothering them, and don't really want a union. Practically, there would never be an election - the only circumstances in which there would be is if the Union only got between 30 and 50% of people to sign cards, and then petitioned the NLRB for an election. Practically, that will never happen (because unions almost always lose support during the election campaign).
A couple other valid objections to EFCA - (1) there are two sides to every story. Many people think unions are great, but obviously there are things that aren't so great about unions as well. With the card check process, employees very likely will only get the Union's side, and not the employer's side. (2) EFCA also contains a provision that if the union is certified and the parties can't agree on a contract in about 4 months, the government will appoint an arbitrator who will then set the terms and conditions of employment that are binding for 2 years.
I hope this helps. Again, I support EFCA - but there are legitimate complaints, and saying that secret ballot isn't eliminated is misleading at best.