SEPTEMBER 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News
Report shows differences between U.S. and Canada labor laws
BY PAUL TUCKER
REGION, August 29th- A new report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research offered an explaination in why unionization in the United States has been on the decline since the 1960’s.
While many reasons have been given to explain the drop in the rate of workers represented by labor organizations, the report released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research highlights the roles that employer opposition to labor unions and weak labor laws have played in the decline.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research is a Washington, DC based left-leaning economic think-tank that reviews economic and social issues that effect working people’s lives.
The report, “Protecting Fundamental Labor Rights: Lessons from Canada for the United States,” begins with a comparison of the current state of organized labor in the United States and Canada. It notes that from the 1920’s to around 1960, Canada and the United States had approximately the same percentage of unionized worker rates. However, in 1960, the two began to diverge. As of 2011, the unionization rate in Canada stood at 29.7 percent, while the unionization rate in the United States was less than half that at 11.8 percent.
The report then goes on to look at the legal process for forming labor unions and how impasses in contract negotiations are handled in both countries, reaching the conclusion that these institutional factors help to explain much of the difference in unionization rates.
While in Canada and the United States both have elections as one route to forming labor unions, Canadian workers in several provinces also have the much faster option of card-check certification. Under card-check, once a majority of employees sign cards in support of unionization, an employer is required by law to recognize their union.
However, in the United States unless an employer voluntarily recognized a union, workers must first file a petition showing support for unionization and then vote to unionize in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before an employer is required to recognized their union.
As of 2011, the median amount of time between the petition to form a union and the election was 38 days, and it often extends far beyond. During this time, United States employers often engage in anti-union campaigns, committing illegal acts such as threatening to close the workplace or threatening to and/or fire workers, to discourage them from voting to form a union. In fact, workers were illegally fired in about 30 percent of certification elections in 2007.
The report suggest it is worth nothing that union decertification in Canada was no more common in periods where card-check certification was in place than at other times. Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCAct), which would have brought card-check to the United States, argued that the process would allow unions to “bulldoze” workers into signing cards, leaving them with union representation even when they didn’t really want it. However, the fact decertification was no more prevalent under card-check than it was under mandatory elections in Canada shows that this has not been a problem.
In closing, the report notes that even after a union has been certified, negotiations for a first-time contract is a much more difficult prospect in the United States than in Canada.
Though required by law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct) to negotiate with workers “in good faith” to obtain a contract, some employers have never reached an agreement with the union. The failure to get a first-time contract often leads to the union being decertified. In Canada, “first contract arbritration” mandates that if bargaining for a first-time contract has come to an impasse or if certain conditions have been met, there is a mediation procedure to reach a mutual agreement. Should that fail, arbitration will lead to a legally binding contract agreement.