This legislative session’s record number of vetoes by Governor Tim Pawlenty included his veto of a resolution supporting federal legislation to make it easier for workers to organize unions.
By lopsided majorities, both the Minnesota House and the Minnesota Senate passed resolutions urging Congress to enact the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800). The vote was 84-10 in the Minnesota House and 41-23 in the Minnesota Senate.
Pawlenty’s May 8 veto message, however, characterized the Employee Free Choice Act as “highly controversial.”
Pawlenty’s message read: “The Employee Free Choice Act is fundamentally flawed and I will not play a role in urging its passage.”
The Employee Free Choice Act establishes union recognition when a majority of workers at a worksite sign union authorization cards. That’s an option currently available to workers and employers. Under current law, however, the employer can reject the cards and insist on an election governed by the National Labor Relations Board.
In testimony before the Minnesota Legislature, workers spoke out about the employer tactics that often mar the NLRB election process, including mandatory anti-union meetings, threats of retaliation to union supporters, and other abuses.
This intimidation skews the NRLB election process in favor of the employer, said Rep. Mike Nelson, author of the resolution in the Minnesota House. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, Nelson added, “a lot of the animosity and intimidation will be gone.”
Pawlenty’s veto message did not acknowledge worker concerns about the NLRB election process.
“It was interesting what he picked out and why he picked it out,” Nelson said. “The biggest objection is this misconception that we’re taking away people’s right to vote.”
“He obviously does not understand the bill,” said Jennifer Schaubach, legislative director for the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “It does not take away the secret ballot,” Schaubach said, “it gives employees the choice.”
Under the Employee Free Choice Act, NLRB elections would take place if 30 percent of workers at a worksite indicated their preference for a NLRB election instead of the card-check process.
Normally, the Minnesota House and Senate can pass independent resolutions urging Congressional action which do not need to go to the governor for his signature. In this case, because the House and Senate resolutions were identical, the matter went to Pawlenty and met with his veto.
Schaubach said this “technical error” by Minnesota proponents of the Employee Free Choice Act was “unfortunate.”
The Employee Free Choice Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives but is stalled in the U.S. Senate.
For more information
Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Visit the federation’s website, www.minneapolisunions.org