Center for Union Facts logo

Union Facts

Cards Are Not Votes

Union officials know that the cards they use as proof of interest in a union are no such thing. In 1961, the AFL-CIO’s “Guidebook for Union Organizers” stated:

NLRB pledge cards are at best a signifying intention at a given moment. Sometimes they are signed to ‘get the union off my back’ … Whatever the reason, there is no guarantee of anything in a signed NLRB pledge card except that it will count toward an NLRB election.

Decades later, in February 1989, the AFL-CIO published a survey of unionizing campaign outcomes that was equally clear: “It is not until the union obtains signatures from 75% or more of the unit that the union has more than a 50% likelihood of winning the election.”

In a 1998 legal brief to the NLRB, the AFL-CIO criticized cards for decertification of a union because they were allegedly “not comparable to the privacy and independence of the voting booth.” Indeed, they stated that the “election system provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are ‘the result of group pressures and not individual decisions.’”

The courts have likewise concluded that card check is an inappropriate means of divining the true intent of employees. In 1967, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded: “It would be difficult to imagine a more unreliable method of ascertaining the real wishes of employees than a ‘card check,’ unless it were an employer’s request for an open show of hands.”

In the case of NLRB v. Gissel Packing Co., the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated the words of a lower court:

The unreliability of the cards is not dependent upon the possible use of misrepresentation and threats … It is inherent, as we have noted, in the absence of secrecy and in the natural inclination of most people to avoid stands which appear to be nonconformist and antagonistic to friends and fellow employees.

More succinctly, the Court stated that the card check system is “admittedly inferior to the election process.”

In 1983, the Seventh Circuit concluded: “Workers sometimes sign union authorization cards not because they intend to vote for the union in the election but to avoid offending the person who asks them to sign, often a fellow worker, or simply to get the person off their back, since signing commits the worker to nothing (except that if enough workers sign, the employer may decide to recognize the union without an election).”

A nurse’s letter to the Rochester, Minnesota, Post-Bulletin provided an appropriate example of the ways in which a card is not a vote. After saying, “[i]f the union has the support of day-care providers, we want a fair vote like all Americans deserve, not a card check,” the nurse made the important point: “In the state of Illinois, only 10 percent of providers who signed cards are union members; 90 percent who signed cards are not union members.”