Only the editorial writers of the New York Post could stumble unintentionally into a script for the theatre of the absurd, as it did last week with this editorial, “UFT’s Saddam Plan.” According to the brilliant political minds who pen their editorial page prose, the UFT’s proposal for ‘card check’ union organizing in charter schools is tantamount to the authoritarian rule Saddam Hussein inflicted on Iraq for decades. That will certainly come as news to the states of Illinois and California, which have ‘card check’ organizing for all public employees, as well as the states of New York and New Jersey, which have ‘card check’ organizing for not-for-profit and private sector employees not covered by the NLRB. But it does not surprise us that the adolescent editorial staff of the Post finds the law of Iraq under Baathist rule indistinguishable from the law of California and New York under Republican governors.
Let us dispose of the issue of ‘card check’ union organizing, which we discussed recently at some length. The long and short of it is that the Post’s claim, “the UFT would prefer the teachers’ votes be counted in public — you know, Saddam Hussein-style — so that it’ll know who its enemies are,” is such a gross misrepresentation of what ‘card check’ recognition involves that it is simply impossible to believe that it is an error made in good faith.
All organizing, both traditional ballot and ‘card check’ certification, requires the union to demonstrate it has the support of teachers in the school by having them sign ‘authorization cards’ declaring their support. In traditional ballot organizing, the union must sign up a minimum of 30% of the teachers; after validating those cards, the labor board sets dates for a certification campaign and election. At the end of the campaign, the union must secure a majority of the ballots, and withstand legal challenges from the employer, in order to be certified as the collective bargaining representative. In card check organizing, the union must sign up a majority of the teachers outright, whereupon it is automatically certified as the collective bargaining representative.
With the growth of professional union-busting outfits, such as the infamous Jackson Lewis law firm which recently entered the New York Charter School arena, American unions have found that the traditional ballot certification provided antagonistic employers with many opportunities for thwarting the democratic will of employees to organize – from firing and otherwise intimidating the publicly identified union supporters who had signed cards to holding up the certification of a positive ballot in years of legal appeals. By contrast, ‘card check’ recognition allows the union to keep the identity of its supporters secret and protected, until their cards are actually counted and the union is certified – at which time the union is in a much better position to protect them. Moreover, since the ‘card check’ procedure is much simpler and more straightforward, it is considerably harder to tie up a positive union vote in the courts. For these reasons, unions are increasingly turning to ‘card check’ recognition in their organizing.
The charge that ‘card check’ organizing is a “public election” is thus nonsensical. What the Post really objects to in ‘card check’ recognition is the opposite of what it claims: far from being ‘public,’ the identities of card-signing union supporters are not known to anti-union employers until the union is certified, when it is much harder to fire or intimidate them. How interesting that the Post would decry as “thuggery” procedures that provide the protection of secrecy to union supporters. The psychoanalysts will find a rich lode of material in that formulation.
A few words must be dedicated to a Post rhetoric which compares the UFT to Saddam Hussein, and union organizing to bloody, totalitarian rule. Its very appearance is an inevitable by-product of the degeneration of the Post, a once great newspaper that has turned over its editorial page to historical and political illiterates. James Wechsler and Murray Kempton, two great warriors against totalitarianism who graced the editorial pages of the Post in its glory days, would have used their columns to condemn unequivocally the diminution of the struggle against authoritarian dictatorships with such juvenile antics. One looks in vain for a similar voice of integrity today.
The real Saddam Hussein and the real Iraqi Baathists jailed, tortured and murdered Iraqi teacher unionists. Teacher unions have always thrived in democracies, and always been targeted as ‘enemies of the state’ by authoritarian regimes on the left and on the right, from Castro’s Cuba and Maoist China to Pinochet’s Chile and apartheid South Africa.
The real UFT and the real AFT have been the strongest supporters of democratic Iraqi and Kurdish teacher unions, and the most steadfast opponents of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime. Would that the US government had always been equally steadfast.
The real UFT and the real AFT have a long and proud history of opposition to Fascism and Communism, and have provided critical material aid to democratic unions, such as Poland’s Solidarnösc, struggling for the freedom of their peoples.
Only a newspaper with cavalier disregard for such matters of great democratic principle could publish “UFT’s Saddam Plan” on its editorial page.
We have been told that Massachusetts has ‘card check’ recognition for charter schools, and that the New Jersey law is actually broader than we thought — it covers all public employees, like the laws in California and Illinois.