Local Politics

Groups rally for, against union-organizing bill

Posted February 17, 2009 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is the least-unionized state in the nation, and dozens of people rallied Tuesday outside the Legislative Building to keep that distinction.

About 3 percent of North Carolina workers are union members, while more than 12 percent of workers nationwide belong to unions.

"There's a reason people are leaving in mass exodus places like Massachusetts and New York – heavily union states. We need to keep North Carolina with a vibrant working climate," said Dallas Woodhouse, spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, which opposes a federal bill that would make organizing unions easier.

The Employee Free Choice Act would amend federal labor laws to allow for greater use of "card checks" to form unions. Under the proposal, the National Labor Relations Board would have to certify a union without ordering a secret-ballot election if a majority of the workers in a plant signed authorization cards.

President Barack Obama supports the legislation, but critics say the bill would make it harder for workers to reject a union.

"It's not about whether we want unions," Woodhouse said. "Everyone should be free to join a union or not, but they shouldn't be coerced into joining a union by having union cards shoved in their face."

Supporters of the bill say the legislation would restore a balance of power between workers and employers.

"Workers have faced a significant level of intimidation in the workplace, and (bill opponents) want to preserve that system," said Will Cubbison, labor caucus chairman of the Young Democrats of North Carolina. "Workers needs more rights. They need better representation, and with the Employee Free Choice Act, the playing field would be leveled and they'd have a better opportunity for that."

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said he plans to vote against the legislation, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan said she is in support of the bill.

“The Employee Free Choice Act simply allows employees, not the employers, to decide if and how they would like to organize at their workplace," said Dave Hoffman, Hagan's press secretary.

Hagan has met with groups on both sides of the union issue and plans to "also push for reasonable changes to the National Labor Relations Act, such as modifications to bring the procedures for decertifications in line with the process for union certifications, in order to maintain a level playing field," Hoffman said.