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Union Facts

Unions vs. Elections

Legal recognition of a union has traditionally been achieved through secret ballot elections, in which each worker decides whether or not to support a union in the privacy of the voting booth — just like a person votes for the president or a senator. But unions frequently lose secret ballot elections. So they often bring intense pressure on companies to agree to a “card check” system instead of a secret election.

“There's no reason to subject the workers to an election.
—Bruce Raynor, president of Workers United, an SEIU affiliated union

With card checks, paid union organizers try to persuade workers to sign cards saying that they favor union representation. This persuasion frequently takes the form of harassing visits to workers' homes, deception, and coercion. As soon as more than 50 percent of the workers in a bargaining unit sign a card, the union can be recognized as the representative of 100 percent of the workers.

“We don't do elections.
— SEIU Local 32BJ leader Mike Fishman

Card check campaigns generally occur in the context of a neutrality agreement, in which the company agrees to not speak to employees about the risks and downsides of union membership. When asked about neutrality agreements versus secret ballot elections in a 2005 Zogby poll, 59 percent of Americans agreed that “employers should be able to provide employees with information about unions and the potential impact of unionizing on their jobs.”

Click here for examples of how unions treat employees during card check campaigns.

Unions vs. Elections

Moving Away From Democratic Elections

  • Then-AFL-CIO national organizing director Stewart Acuff told The Wall Street Journal in August 2005 that three times as many workers were added through “card checks” than through traditional secret ballot elections. And the Bureau of National Affairs reported in January 2006 that then-UNITE HERE president Bruce Raynor estimated that 90 percent of his new members had been organized through “alternative means” that avoided elections.

Neutrality/Card Check Agreements Aren't Workers' Choice

Union Bosses Only Use Elections When It Suits Them

  • “Today, organized labor embraced organizing tactics bypassing Board conducted secret ballot elections. The AFL-CIO reports that more than 80 percent of newly organized employees in 2002 were organized through corporate campaigns and bargained-for neutrality and card-check agreements … Interestingly, while organized labor and certain legislators advance card check and eschew the secret ballot election process for certifying union representation, they embrace the secret ballot process as a check on an employer's withdrawal of recognition.”
    John Raudabaugh, National Labor Relations Board


What do the courts say about card check campaigns versus secret ballots?

  • “It is beyond dispute that a secret election is a more accurate reflection of the employees' true desires than a check of authorization cards collected at the behest of a union organizer.” (NLRB v. Flomatic Corp., Second Circuit Court of Appeals, 1965)
  • “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.” (NLRB v. S.S. Logan Packing Co., Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1967)
  • “We would be closing our eyes to obvious difficulties, of course, if we did not recognize that there have been abuses, primarily arising out of misrepresentations by union organizers as to whether the effect of signing a card was to designate the union to represent the employee for collective bargaining purposes or merely to authorize it to seek an election to determine that issue.” (NLRB v. Gissel Packing Co., Supreme Court of the United States, 1969)
  • “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.)” (NLRB v. Village IX, Seventh Circuit, 1983)
  • “Freedom of choice is a matter at the very center of our national labor relations policy, and a secret election is the preferred method of gauging choice.” (Avecor v. NLRB, D.C. Circuit, 1991)