A Statement on Card Check Neutrality

Swarthmore College has a deep and abiding commitment to provide a respectful, dignified workplace with competitive wages and benefits and a free flow of information and ideas. We are equally committed to the rights of all employees, including the right to choose whether or not to be represented by the union of their choice, as articulated in federal legislation and overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Under federal law, employees may choose representation by a labor organization through the selection of a union by a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit. At the same time, employees may choose to decline such representation.

The most common way to determine whether a unit of employees will choose union representation is through a private-ballot election supervised by the NLRB. Some labor organizations seek to be recognized as the representative of the employees through neutrality agreements and/or card-check procedures. Card-check recognition is allowable after the union has obtained signed authorization cards from more than 50 percent of the potential bargaining unit members.

We believe the best way to ensure the free flow of ideas and individual choice is through comprehensive and candid disclosures of relevant information, fair and un-coerced discussions, and the private-ballot process rather than through neutrality agreements and the card-check process. We believe this approach best serves our employees' rights to make informed choices on such an important issue. Thus, we do not support the concept of neutrality agreements, which limit employer and employee communications, or the card-check approach to organizing, which does not allow for private-ballot elections.

Our preference for balloting springs from our mission, the experience of our staff, and the broader electoral process that frames our democracy. Swarthmore is, first and foremost, an educational institution committed to open dialogue and respect for differences. An election process is best suited to our culture, as it better allows for all views to be aired in an atmosphere of respect, appreciation, and free inquiry. Neutrality agreements often place restrictions on communication between employers and their employees, which has the potential to create the antithesis of the environment we seek. Additionally, in the past, members of our staff have voiced their preference for private-ballot elections to protect their right to a confidential choice.

In the balloting process, typically a union first obtains signatures from at least 30 percent of the potential bargaining unit on authorization forms, or "cards." These cards may be obtained over some period of time or all at once. The cards are statements that employees have selected the union as their representative. Sometimes, the union will assert recognition solely on the basis of having amassed such cards from a majority of the employees in the proposed group or unit. Most employers, however, decline to acknowledge the union at this stage. In that event, the union uses the cards to support its request to the NLRB to conduct a private-ballot election.

Private-ballot elections conducted by the NLRB are similar to the official political primaries and elections we use to elect our governmental leaders and representatives. They follow campaigns and discussions by the parties, their supporters, and others, who provide the electorate (in this case potential members of a bargaining unit) with information as well as an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues. The NLRB prohibits any of the parties from interfering with free speech and protects the rights of employees who participate in organizing activities-and those who choose to refrain from participating.

At the outset of an organizing campaign, unions may propose that the employer agree to a "neutrality agreement" with the union. The precise terms and scope of neutrality agreements vary, but most provide that the employer will be silent, neutral, or supportive of the union during the organizing process. Often, however, they include added provisions, such as those for union access to employees at the work site, access to the home addresses and telephone numbers of the potential bargaining unit members, and limitations on employer communication with employees.

Proponents argue that such agreements make it easier for unions to organize employees and avoid opportunities for employers to coerce employees on the issue. Opponents argue that neutrality agreements assure that employees hear only one side of the story and that there would be no way of knowing what representations were made to employees while cards were being solicited. Such agreements may therefore deprive employees of access to complete information on the issues and prevent a full and open discussion.

Often, requests for neutrality are accompanied by a provision for a "card-check" procedure, i.e., an agreement to accept authorization cards in lieu of a private-ballot election, provided the union is able to obtain cards from more than 50 percent of the employees. This is sometimes referred to as a "card-check agreement." Proponents of card-check agreements argue they can have the advantage of decreasing the adversarial nature of labor-management relationships, reducing the potential for coercive behavior on the part of the employer and making it easier for unions to organize.

Card check opponents, meanwhile, point to several serious disadvantages when compared to the private-ballot process, especially as card checks may impact the rights of employees to make a choice without coercion. Chief among these concerns is the public nature of the card-check process, as compared to the private-ballot. Akin to signing a petition, union authorization cards are public declarations typically signed in the presence of a co-worker or a union representative, and often disclosed to co-workers, allowing opportunities for peer pressure, harassment, and other types of coercion by co-workers and third parties. Related to this issue is the loss of access to private-ballot elections, perceived by many as a fundamental right of our democracy and, as with political elections, a fair method for determining any important issue where the majority choice will prevail for all.

Another disadvantage of the card-check process is the issue of elapsed time. Cards are often solicited over long periods of time, even over many months. There is a concern that employees who change their mind are not easily able to retract their cards. If this happens, it can become difficult to be certain that cards signed at one point in time still represent the true choice of that person at a later time.

We recognize that some employers elsewhere have used NLRB processes to make it difficult for unions to organize. It is also true that grievous intimidation of employees has occurred elsewhere, both by employers and by unions. As with most things, the actions of ill-intentioned parties or those who act in bad faith should not be used to deprive others of important rights. The College will neither intimidate staff nor delay unionization efforts. The open dialogue and private-ballot process has worked to the benefit of millions of employees across the country for many decades. While not perfect, the NLRB election process requires that all parties operate under anti-coercion rules and provides equal access to the NLRB's enforcement processes to redress violations of those rules.

We are gratified that the NLRB has recently made efforts aimed at preventing these abuses so that the credibility of the private-ballot process can be restored and employees can participate in dialogue on issues in a free and fair environment, making an informed choice that represents their own best interests.


For more on the College's committment to providing a safe, healthy, and productive working environment, please see President Rebecca Chopp's Statement of Principles on this subject.