The current issue of Newsweek magazine contains a strongly titled opinion piece, "Unions: We’re Better Off Without Them." The author, Kevin Kelly, C.E.O. of Emerald Packaging in Union City, California. recounts his experiences with two "exhausting, deeply distracting" union representation campaigns. He lays out in sensible, composed terms why many small business owners might prefer to operate without a union representing their employees, and he expresses his concerns about the evolving regulatory environment under the Obama administration in this regard.
Midway through the article, however, Mr. Kelly subtly shifts gears, and articulates sympathy for the most common arguments in support of EFCA:
Others are taking a more activist approach. One small business person wrote to his senator urging her to vote against the legislation, or at least amend it so that some sort of election period is preserved. "My argument is that the company should have at least some period to make its case," he says. Like many businesspeople, he worries that a union organizer might bully an employee into signing a card. I can’t help but feel that prevention is the better route though. When, not if, a bill passes, I’d rather be a less susceptible target thanks to good employee relations.
Years ago that union drive certainly woke me up. Almost overnight we quickly overhauled our employee relations. We put a pay scale in place so that raises occurred in a timely manner and not just at the whim of a manager. We hired a human resource manager to handle day-to-day employee issues, tackling problems like reimbursements for health care costs. I began to meet regularly with employees, including periodic meals with each of our three shifts. These meetings often last two hours—or more—as employee’s list ways they think the company could be improved, often offering ideas to boost productivity or quality.
I must confess, unlike many businesspeople, I do have a soft spot for the spirit of EFCA. While I can’t agree with doing away with elections, I do accept that six weeks is far too long. If a company can’t make its case in three weeks, then it likely deserves the union it gets. Six weeks gives employers too much time to wear employees down. Forcing workers to sit through meeting after meeting, bashing the union, hinting that the company might move or close if the union wins, probably is the corporate equivalent of the fear many businesspeople carry that union organizers might manhandle our employees into signing cards.
There is nothing inconsistent in Mr. Kelly’s assertions here and his objection to EFCA, or his desire to operate union-free. Indeed, many of his insights should be extremely helpful to like-minded small business owners.
One might also read the last few paragraphs, however, and ask what special insight Mr. Kelly might have into the current efforts underway to make EFCA more palatable to 60 Senators. Many of the positions referenced here — preservation of the secret ballot, quicker elections, restricting employer meetings — are elements frequently discussed in connection with possible substitute labor law reforms.