State Laws Allowing Majority Sign-up for Unions Show why Employee Free Choice Act is Fair Option for Workers

State Laws Allowing Majority Sign-up for Unions Show why Employee Free Choice Act is Fair Option for Workers

Thursday, May 7, 2009




State Laws Allowing Majority Sign-up for Unions Show why Employee Free Choice Act is Fair Option for Workers

It seems relatively simple.  The proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act would give employees the freedom to form a union when a majority of workers sign cards saying that they want one, avoiding the often months of employer harassment that have inevitably accompanied traditional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election processes.

Ignoring Evidence of Majority Sign-up Success in the States: Yet the anti-union lobby in Washington, D.C. has been churning out propaganda about the supposed horrors of coercion workers would face by unions if the Employee Free Choice Act was enacted.  They inevitably tell hypothetical stories about what could happen -- but studiously ignore the fact that states around the country already allow groups of public and private employees to form unions through majority sign-up procedures without any evidence of the coercion they conjure up.

Just to reinforce the lack of evidence of union coercion, a new report from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was released this week examining the whole history of majority sign-up in that state.  The report found that between the years 2003 and 2009, 21,197 public sector workers used majority sign-up procedures allowed by state law to form unions with only one complaint about union coercion filed during that whole period -- and even that complaint was dismissed as without merit by the state Labor Relations Board.

In fact, across the country since 2003, half a million workers have formed unions using majority sign-up procedures, either under state law or through voluntary agreements made with employers, and there is no significant evidence of union coercion under the process.  If there was, you can bet the anti-union lobby would be citing those problems every day, yet instead they attempt to ignore the existing success of majority sign-up procedures for workers who have access to them.

Coercion by Employers under Federal NLRB Procedures:  Compare this to the existing National Labor Relations Board process where an estimated one-in-five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign.  A 2000 Human Rights Watch report said the failure to protect workers under U.S. election procedures was so profound that the so-called secret ballot election" process failed to meet international human rights standards.  Just this week, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released an animation illustrating how brutal present NLRB procedures are for workers.

Promoting Freedom to Form Unions: Given the benefits of unionization in raising wages, spreading majority sign-up at both the federal and state level to put more money in household budgets and stimulate the economy should be an imperative for all elected leaders.

State laws allowing majority sign-up for groups of public and private employees have been enacted in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.  Examples of these statutes include Oregon Revised Statutes, 243.682 for public employees and New York Chapter 31, Article 20, Section 705 covering both public employees and a number of private industries.

So you've got one system -- NLRB elections with a demonstrated history of massive, overwhelming employer abuse -- and another system -- majority signup operating in many states with noevidence of any of the abuses alleged by opponents. If it works in the states, why not bring its benefits to more employes?

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Colorado and Indiana Legislatures Pass Internet Voter Registration Bills

In the final week of their legislative sessions, the Colorado and Indiana legislatures gave final approval to bills allowing residents to register to vote online.  Colorado Senators passed HB 1160 and Indiana House Members passed HB 1346; both bills allow residents with driver's licenses or state-issued ID cards to register to vote online.  The legislation has been sent to the governor in both states.  In Colorado the governor is expected to sign the bill, while Indiana's governor has not indicated support or opposition.

Two states, Arizona and Washington, currently offer Internet voter registration.  Many thought that this option would only be appealing to young, Internet-savvy voters, but over 70% of voter registrations now come in online in Arizona and registration increased 10% the first year it was available (2007).  And while some have voiced concern that registering online will decrease election security, this system is perhaps more secure than paper-based registrations and there have been no instances of voter registration fraud with online registration to date.

Colorado:  Following a two-year lobbying effort by New Era Colorado, the state is on the cusp of providing internet registration to Colorado voters.  The bill had very strong bi-partisan support in the legislature, passing unanimously in the Senate and only garnering four "no" votes in the House.  It has now moved to the governor's desk for his expected signature.

:  Indiana is more famous for putting up barriers to voting with its strict government-issued photo ID requirement that was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.  Yet, Sec. of State Todd Rokita has been a leading proponent of both voter ID and internet registration.  Unlike most proponents of voter ID, Sec. Rokita understands that states should use the new technology available to them to enhance access to the ballot box.  While most voting rights advocates strongly disagree with his position on voter ID, which he posits is essential for a secure election, we all can strongly agree with him that “[b]ecause of the technology we have, ... we can offer online registration and maintain, even enhance, the integrity of our elections.”  Specifically, the statewide voter registration databases that all states are now required to maintain can facilitate a host of improvements to voter registration and voter list maintenance.

How Internet Registration Works:  As our friends at New Era Colorado explain, internet registration is easy and secure.

The online form will allow current Colorado voters to update their registration record with address changes and mail-in ballot status by entering all of the same information that is currently required on a paper registration form. In the case of an address change, a postcard is sent to both the new and old address (like how the post office does when you change your address) in case there was a mistake or someone stole your identity.

The online form will allow first time registrants to register to vote online ONLY if they have a Colorado Driver's License or ID. For these first time registrants, the digitized signature from their Driver's License or ID will be used as the required signature on a voter registration form. This means that the person had to show up in person to a government office, provide a birth certificate, and show documentation to a government employee.

Behind the scenes, two things make Internet voter registration work -- statewide lists and electronic signatures.  Statewide, electronic lists allow residents anywhere in the state to register with the Sec. of State's Office.  It is no longer necessary for every registration to be transferred to the local election office physically.  Electronic signatures allow a registrant to prove their identity through a signature match where their signature on election day is matched with the signature in their driver's license or state ID file.

Other Registration Reforms That Technology Makes Possible:  Internet registration is only the beginning of what technology makes possible in modernizing our voter registration systems.  Other improvements include streamlining motor voter registration procedures as Delaware recently did, and implementing automatic voter registration as is currently being considered in Minnesota.  These systems, like internet registration, use statewide voter lists in conjunction with other state agency databases, in this case to allow the state to proactively register voters when they come in contact with a government agency.  As Sec. Rokita mentions, this process of comparing data across databases also has the effect of making our voting rolls more accurate and our elections more secure.

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New Mexico Passes Media Literacy Bill

The proliferation of the Internet and emerging technologies has transformed the quantity, array of content, and speed at which information is communicated in our lives.  According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, 8-18 year olds spend on average close to six and a half hours per day with various forms of media.  This evidence of media saturation underscores how important it is for young people to be able to think critically and create media in order to communicate effectively with society

This year New Mexico enacted HB 342, which states that media literacy courses may be offered as an elective for public school students in 6th-12th grade.  A statement released by Rep. Maestas, the bill's sponsor, said, “[m]edia literacy is a 21st century approach to education.  It provides a foundation for young people to decipher the countless media images and messages they receive on a daily basis... Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential critical thinking skills necessary for citizens in an advanced democracy.” 

The state legislature's decision to pass a law that will facilitate public schools incorporation of media literacy as a more central part of their curriculum is a victory for advocates who have argued, for years, that the changing communication landscape demands us to expand our educational priorities to include media literacy.  

While many state educational standards have incorporated either formally or informally, elements of media literacy, media education really only reaches a very small percentage of schoolsBy allowing for an elective to focus on media literacy, however, New Mexico's legislative action sends a clear message that "being literate in today's society requires more than knowing how to read or write," it requires being able to understand and create different types of media. 

Although HB 342 did not define media literacy, the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (NMMLP), which serves as a resource to school districts, defines media literacy as the ability to critically consume and create media, including understanding the “text” (surface content) and “subtext” (hidden meanings) in messages received from: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, signs, packaging, marketing materials, video games, recorded music, the Internet, and other media.  According to a statement from NMMLP,  "[m]edia literacy education helps empower learners to become active community and civic participants."  In addition, when media literacy education includes teaching students how to develop their own content, students' creativity and valuable problem solving and cooperation skills that will help them develop essential job skills are nurtured.

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Research Roundup

No Paid Leave for New Moms  - This economic snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute highlights the fact the United States remains the only country among comparable wealthy nations that doesn't require employers to provide any paid leave when a child is born.

The State and Local Drag on the Stimulus - Because of state budget cuts subtracting spending from the economy, the economic stimulus effects of the federal recovery plan is being blunted, according to this Center for Economic and Policy Research report.  The full effect of federal stimulus will equal a little more than 1 percent of GDP a year, falling far short of what is needed to re-ignite the economy.

Some important new reports on health care with implications for state and federal reform efforts:

New election reports emphasize gains in diversity, cost savings and youth turnout from improved election procedures and administration:

  • US Electorate Most Diverse in History:  Pew Research Center [report] and Project Vote [report] have broken down the new census data on the 2008 election and it shows that there was a huge surge in voting by minority voters, particularly young people, which resulted in the most diverse electorate in American history.  There was also a regional component, with southern states with large African-American populations leading turnout gains as well.  Black women had the highest turnout, a first, and turnout of African-Americans under thirty increased 9%.  Asian-American youth turnout increased 9.6% and for Latino youth it was 5.2%.  In total, 4.9 million more young people of color turned out in 2008 then in 2004, which amounts to 91% of the 5.4 million new voters added in total.
  • Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy - Cost Savings for Local Elections Officials Through Voter Registration Modernization - U.S. PIRG takes a hard look at the costs of voter registration in 100 counties nationwide and find that errors, extra staff near election time, and provisional ballots drain tens of millions of dollars from local election budgets every year.  They recommend modernizing voter registration systems to make it more streamlined and automatic by linking government databases to the voter rolls.
  • Public Attitudes on State Election Administration, Goals, and Reforms - The University of Missouri has released a survey of voters opinions of a variety of election reform issues - EDR, Mail-in Voting, Early Voting, and Voter ID.  They find majority support for Early Voting and Voter ID and for government action to increase turnout.
  • The Youth Vote in 2008 - CIRCLE has an analysis of the 2008 election census survey that confirms exit polls showing strong turnout of voters under the age of 30.  Young peoples' participation has risen for three election cycles and hit 51% last year, 2 percentage points higher than in 2004 and 11 points higher than 2008.  This increase was mainly driven by young women who have an 8 point higher turnout than young men.

Stimulating Excellence: Unleashing the Power of Innovation in Education - This Center for American Progress report highlights creative solutions and ideas from a collection of leading education entrepreneurs about federal and state policy changes that change the demands and incentives in K-12 systems to better serve students.

Picturing Smart Growth- is a tool using Google Maps by the Natural Resources Defense Council to help people visualize how sprawling, unwalkable places around the US could become more livable and sustainable with just a little bit of work.  The tool allows viewers to explore 70 different locations from coast to coast for how better design could improve them.

Please email us leads on good research at


State Laws Allowing Majority Sign-up for Unions Show why Employee Free Choice Act is Fair Option for Workers

American Rights At Work - Majority Sign-up Q&A and Half a Million and Counting and Free and Fair? How Labor Law Fails U.S. Democratic Election Standards,
AFL-CIO - The Employee Free Choice Act: Will it Lead to Coercion of Workers by Unions? and Expanding Workers' Collective Bargaining Rights: Majority Sign-up/Card Check for Public Sector Workers
Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) - Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaigns, 1951-2007 and The Benefits of Unionization
Human Rights Watch - Unfair Advantage: Workers' Freedom of Association in the United States under International Human Rights Standards
Center for American Progress Action Fund - How Not to Join a Union: Labor Law Gives Workers a Raw Deal

Colorado and Indiana Legislatures Pass Internet Voter Registration Bills

Colorado Internet Registration Bil - HB 1160
Indiana Internet Registration Bill - HB 1346
New Era Colorado - Online Voter Registration Factsheet
Brennan Center for Justice - Voter Registration Modernization

New Mexico Passes Media Literacy Bill

Kaiser Family Foundation, Generation M:  Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds
Toward Critical Media Literacy: Core concepts, debates, organizations, and policy
New Mexico Media Literacy Project
Center for Media Literacy


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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