Employee Free Choice Act: A Plea for Tribalism?

By October 11, 2007Labor Unions

Academia is weighing in on the issue of the Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor’s legislative strategy to force employees into union membership against their will. Yes, a Penn State anthropoligist is using his professional academic association to spread his special insight, which coincides with the same special insight of organized labor.

University Park, Pa. –- Paul Durrenberger, professor of anthropology at Penn State, was a primary contributor to the first American Anthropological Association Policy Brief on the right of employees to organize unions.

Durrenberger, a cultural anthropologist who has lived and worked in communities from Thailand to Iceland, has focused his recent work on the United States and the role of unions in the American workforce. The AAA Policy Brief focuses on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to sign a card to indicate their support for a union to represent them instead of vote in a secret ballot election, a system that is rife with employer coercion. The brief is the first of a series of informational resources intended for the public policy community that will approach problems from an anthropological perspective and bring contemporary ethnographic research to policy discussions. Ethnography is the up-close study of how people live, work and make decisions in everyday life. The briefs are a product of the AAA Committee on Public Policy.

The brief lists key research findings on the problems of unionization, including management’s efforts to sway supervisors and coach them in persuading workers to oppose unions and anti-union publications and misrepresent unions’ goals and aims. The anthropological research that supports the brief finds that these practices hurt minorities, women and immigrants disproportionately.

The research shows that “such tactics … aim to isolate people who favor the union, sow ethnic conflict, target pro-union employees … and harass and humiliate workers in front of others.” This ethnographic research also showed that there are often unexpected and unreported extreme and coercive behaviors by consultants for management.

These tactics leave workers unable to express a desire for unionization; managerial lawbreaking continues because penalties are insufficient to prevent them.

The full brief is available at http://www.aaanet.org/gvt/whtsnew.htm online.

Special insight? We meant special interest.

Seriously, this is — now what’s the academic term? — nonsense, a narrow selection of data to reach a pre-determined political conclusion. Apparently the “right to a secret ballot” is not considered in this enclave of politicized anthropologists, even though 87 percent of voters agree that every employee should continue to have the right to a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether to organize a union. (Cited here.)

We strenuously reject the contention that employer abuses are endemic. Labor distorts the numbers of firings, complaints, etc., in a clear effort to deceive the public into thinking union organizers are widely persecuted. It’s just not true. (A good rebuttal of these bogus union claims is here.)

The Employee Free Choice Act has slipped down our list of blogging topics lately since the bill appears stalled in Congress. But obviously this attack on individual and workplace rights lives on, remaining an issue that deserves continued vigorous attention. Presidential candidates wooing labor votes and campaign support and spending have pledged loyalty to this oppressive legislation; labor sees forced unionization as a salvation to plummeting membership.

This is the kind of thing that gives academia a bad name.

P.S. The NAM’s June 19th key vote letter on the issue is here.

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