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Goals, SLAP, and Intercouncil Affairs

November 15, 2010

Short Term Goals

StuCo discussed two short-term goals: creating a resource guide and food services initiatives. They broke up into two groups to discuss these issues.

The resource guide is a guidebook about “how to get things done on campus,” according to a StuCo handout. This includes everything from chartering a student group to attending a conference. They hope to publish it by the end of this semester, before elections. It will be both in print and online, and in the future, included in freshman orientation packets.

So far, StuCo has collected all the necessary information for the guide, and are working on making it student-friendly. They will ask students as well as deans for feedback. They decided that the paper form would be less extensive than the online version.

The members discussing food services initiatives said that they would be meeting with Suzanne Welsh, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, today, to discuss using points in the Ville. They will discuss what the causes of the initial hesitation toward the initiative were as well as what role StuCo will have in the process.

Long Term Goals

The long-term goals were also discussed in two groups: the Bridge Program/academic support and the Rollover Initiative.

In terms of the Bridge Program and academic support, StuCo will be meeting with members of the student body and the academic deans on November 29th to present their findings as to what further supports are needed.

StuCo spent a large part of the meeting, once reconvened as a large group, discussing the Rollover Initiative. As of now, the initiative has three parts: structural and constitutional changes to the Student Budget Committee (SBC), elimination of the Fun Fund in favor of the Rollover fund, and the establishment of a committee to oversee the allocation of these funds.

StuCo discussed the make up of the Rollover Fund committee, and specifically how many faculty/staff members should sit on it. Simon Zhu ’11, President, said that the current number of faculty projected to be on the ten-member panel (two) might not have enough of an influence in decision-making.

They spoke of adding an additional faculty committee member, which would bring the total to three faculty/staff members, two StuCo members, and four student appointees. This would mean reducing the number of StuCo members by one, perhaps by removing the President from the committee.

StuCo voted to move ahead with the initiative, beginning by meeting with SBC.

Students in Attendance

Adam Bortner ’12 attended the StuCo meeting on behalf of Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), asking that StuCo back their resolution aiming to assure fair labor practices for future workers involved in the construction and the running of the Inn.

Bortner asked StuCo to endorse their petition for a neutrality agreement for the future workers — which would mean that the contractor would remain neutral if the workers chose to organize, and in turn, the workers would not strike or use other disruptive practices. SLAP hopes to present the petition, which calls for a clear decision from the Board of Managers, to the administration this week. SLAP had gathered 552 signatures as of last Monday.

Bortner asserted that SLAP is “trying to shape [the Inn project] into best project possible” and “protections for the people that [will] work there.”

Sonja Spoo ’13, Student Appointments Chair, expressed concern with being unfamiliar with the specific terms of a neutrality agreement. Zhu wanted to discuss the resolution with the administration before backing the resolution, as well as seconding Spoo’s concerns. However the majority of Student Council decided to endorse the petition. There were no “no” votes, only abstentions.

Benjamin Wolcott ’14 stopped by to ask StuCo if they had any questions about a resolution he contacted them about via email. He hopes that the council will recommend that the Dean’s Office support his resolution for the creation of a housing co-operative.

Council Affairs

Finally, StuCo discussed whether Sean Thackurdeen ’11, Educational Policy Representative, could continue to serve as such during an academic leave of absence this spring. Thackurdeen will be auditing classes and continuing to participate in the Swarthmore community, although he will not be living on campus or officially enrolled as a student.

Zhu stated that while the StuCo constitution is not clear in this matter, it does not expressly forbid it. The question, Zhu said, was whether Thackurdeen would be able to act, on council, as a full-time student. Thackurdeen said he would be able to devote more time to council work, as he would not be taking classes.

Spoo questioned whether the stipulations of running for council followed through to the actual terms of council members, i.e. that a candidate must be a full-time student.

Luis Peñate ’13, Student Events Advisor, expressed concerns about what kind of precedent this would serve for future members. This specific situation, of a student taking a leave of absence while choosing to simultaneously remain part of the college community, has never happened before, according to Thackurdeen.

Most council members expressed their assurances that Thackurdeen is and would continue to be a valuable member of the council. They voted in favor of allowing Thackurdeen to sit on council during his leave of absence this spring.

  • D

    I'm concerned about StuCo's endorsement of SLAP's proposal without, at least as it seems, real understanding of the issues involved in such a neutrality agreement — especially since at least two StuCo members explicitly felt that way. This seems like one of those things where someone says "do you want workers to be treated well?" and of course you say yes.

    Not saying that I personally am opposed to the proposal, just that I don't understand the issues well enough to have an informed opinion, and I suspect most StuCo members are in the same position.

    I'm also a little weirded out by the thing about having non-students on Student Council. I don't see how an in-StuCo discussion is at all the right way to solve that — of course everyone's going to say that Sean's awesome and nobody's going to oppose it, because who wants to be seen as being against a coworker / friend? Again, not saying that I'm necessarily opposed to the decision, just that I don't see StuCo's way of approaching it as at all the right way to go about it.

  • Peter ’11

    I agree that it's a little weird that they would vote to endorse it while admittedly not having consensus of agreement and not having a full understanding of the issue. That said, that's a hell of a lot of signatures (a good deal of the student body) and they are supposed to represent the students. And in general I'm hoping their hesitance indicates they'll still be looking into the matter further before doing anything about it.

    I don't really have an opinion one way or the other. I feel like if SLAP gets a union involved there will e less for them to personally complain about/protest for in the future (since it'll be the unions responsibility, whether they actually do anything or not), so they might want to consider that for the sake of their group…

  • Danielle, ’14

    I echo concerns over the neutrality agreement. SLAP has garnered these petitions by asking folks if they support workers' rights. I imagine everyone, when the question is posed in such a reductionist fashion, agree. Of course we all support workers' rights. That's not the issue. The issue is that neutrality agreements actually silence employers, impose a gag rule, and are a gateway for labor control, among numerous other issues. I really do wish SLAP would be honest in portraying what a neutrality agreement is, rather than reporting that it is simply a measure to prevent "fighting".

    Moreover, this has been a one-sided debate. If there was in fact a out-right developer, he/she could voice his business proposal and plan for workers. Without that voice, all we have is the SLAP portrayal of menacing business practices, which are rather inflammatory.

    If neutrality agreements are as virtuous as they've been portrayed by some on campus, then why not actually issue a detailed statement of what the agreement is? I've found this information missing, probably because neutrality agreements are far from neutral. Anyone who is concerned about card-check measures should be concerned about StuCo's endorsement of this weighty topic.

  • Adam Bortner ’12

    The members of student council had a great deal of information and a good understanding of the issues involved. The two that abstained simply wanted a bit more information, which is understandable.

    D, let me reassure you that there's no reason to be concerned; if you had been at the meeting you could have joined in the thorough discussion (with plenty of scholarship and facts). That seven members felt confident to vote to support workplace fairness is a clear sign of their understanding of the issues.

    SLAP, however, is continuing to educate members of our campus community as many people, like you, would like more information on the nuances neutrality agreements. On Monday, November 29th, a nationally-known labor relations expert, who studies neutrality agreements, will be coming to campus to give a talk at 4:30 in SCI 199. Hope to see you there!

  • Ali

    I was not at the StuCo Meeting, but I can say that SLAP has been working hard to educate the campus community from what I've seen. The Hotel Workers' Panel was a great opportunity for discussion of these issues, and the event on the 29th promises to be great on the specific issue of these agreements. Furthermore, I have often found that those students collecting signatures know a great deal more about neutrality agreements that Danielle gives them credit for here. Although they may snag people's attention by saying "support workers' rights," they then give a more in-depth explanation to anyone who comes over, and have lots of information to provide. Furthermore, I have encountered students who have said that they feel uncomfortable signing a petition without doing their own research, but who would rather go to their dorms, read up on neutrality agreements, and then sign the petition if they do in fact support it. In short, I think SLAP has done a commendable job of educating the campus community, and that individuals have done a good job of educating themselves. Students aren't blindly following the mantra of worker's rights as much as you think.

  • Meg Long

    So glad that we have a progressive student council willing to stand behind an issue so important as ensuring a fair workplace!

  • Meg Long

    So glad that we have a progressive student council willing to stand behind an issue so important as ensuring a fair workplace!

  • Disgusted

    I'm sick and tired of the lies and propaganda that really damage the dialogue, Danielle. If you're gonna be so vocal about the business perspective, at least know the facts. SLAP has done an excellent job explaining what a neutrality agreement is–look at their op-ed. And for someone who criticizes and attacks others' views so much about not being informed, I really hope you take the opportunity to go to the talk on neutrality agreements and get informed yourself.

    You're absolutely free to disagree and explain why, but lies which serve to continue oppressing the poor and people who work the hardest in this country in the name of "business" are way more inflammatory and destructive than SLAP's efforts to actually educate other students. SLAP is actually doing something concrete that would increase fairness and social justice. As members of SLAP have said (and based on reading I've taken the time to do) a neutrality agreement would establish a level-playing field.

    If all you care about is businesses having the upper-hand and intimidating and controlling workers, then clearly you wouldn't support employers agreeing to neutrality. But if that's the case, stop pretending that you actually care about workers' rights.

  • Maddie

    I think it's very commendable that StuCo has decided to support the petition for ensuring a fair workplace at the future inn. And it's great to know that they want to be informed, and that the majority of them did feel informed enough about neutrality agreements to sign on. The article said that there were no negative votes, only abstentions, which is an important point, too.
    Again, if you feel uninformed about the exact nature of neutrality agreements, come to the lecture on Monday, the 29th, at 4:30pm in Sci 199. SLAP is working hard to try to educate the community, but cannot be successful unless YOU, the students, come and participate in these educational endeavors.

  • Phil Chodrow

    Danielle, given your discontent with SLAP's presentation of neutrality and StuCo's support of that measure, it might behoove you to ask for a meeting with SLAP or StuCo. I'm sure that both bodies would love to talk to you. Of course, you might find their explanations unsatisfying, but I doubt that you'll find evidence of intellectual dishonesty. Similarly, you might see what could be done to bring someone who can speak to the evils of neutrality agreements.

    If you're discontent with the discourse, you'll get farther in your aim to improve it by approaching people, rather than DG comments.



  • Phil Chodrow

    Woops, that's an unusual amount of cheers, even for me.

  • Ali

    Yes, I would like to agree (strongly!) with Disgusted and Phil here. The opposition is not made more effective by painting SLAP as lying propagandists. What we see here is a big triumph on SLAP’s part. They have waged a very well-organized, effective, and powerful campaign this fall, and we are seeing that pay off with the massive support they are getting from the student body and its representatives in StuCo. This campaign did not involve deceiving the poor innocents of Swarthmore campus. Rather, this is a triumph of intelligent discourse. If you would like to challenge SLAP’s actions, I recommend countering with some intelligent discourse of your own. Attack the ideas of SLAP and of all labor activists if you like, but attacking their obviously honorable tactics seems a waste of your time and a discredit to your cause.

  • stuco representation?

    This is unrelated to the entire SLAP issue but rather on another issue about Educational Policy Rep Sean Thackurdeen. Does anyone find it somewhat problematic that even though he will be taking a leave of absence next semester (aka not a full-time student), but will still remain on council?

    I'm sure that Sean is a great individual and he's doing a great job representing us on StuCo; however, even though he will be physically on campus, I'm not exactly sure I feel comfortable with him representing students when he is not a full-time, enrolled student at the moment. I don't really like the precedent that this sets.

    I remember a previous situation where a stuco-elected student resigned his position because he decided to go abroad that semester. Even though Sean will still be physically on campus, I don't think having student who is not paying tuition, room, board, and the student activities fee should play such a pivotal role in determining the rollover fund, sharples changes, academic diversity, etc for that semester. I'm sure that Sean himself might do a good job, but as for precedent, does this mean that our stuco members no longer need to be current students as long as they are physically present for stuco meetings?

  • excited for the resource guide!

    Great comments above but I actually wanted to give stuco props for the resource guide–it is a PHENOMENAL IDEA and will probably be the most useful thing stuco has accomplished in a long time! Brava!

  • Phil Chodrow

    I'd like to thank D and stuco representation? for bringing up the issue with non-students sitting on StuCo. I hadn't really noticed the import of that section, and I really appreciate that you two caught it.

    I have every reason to think that Sean is doing a great job on StuCo, and every reason to think that he'll do an even better one with the extra time he says he'll have. I disagree with stuco representation? in finding non-students on StuCo unacceptable, though I think that both points of view have good reasons to back them.

    However, it is procedurally unacceptable that StuCo would decide to make this decision on its own, in a meeting. Whether or not StuCo members should be current students relates directly to how well StuCo can represent the Swarthmore student body. The questions of who should be eligible to sit on StuCo and under what circumstances are therefore student body concerns, and should be put to a poll. Unlike many polls I've found in my inbox lately, this is one which would present easy action and let students voice real concerns about an issue of their representation.

    My vote would be "yes, let Sean serve," and I'll happily discuss with those who disagree. But it is entirely unacceptable that StuCo thought that this was a matter which they could address unilaterally, and I hope that they will put the matter to the student body, where it belongs.


  • Soren Larson


    Your 'criticism' of Danielle is less criticism and more bloviation of an ideologue who perceives as inflammatory anything contrary to dogma. You can't demand facts from Danielle and also dismiss her supposed lies without identifying them. Further, if you're to claim neutrality agreements propagate 'fairness' and 'social justice,' you need to provide evidence. Given the long discussion on the comments section of SLAP's op-ed, it's pretty clear that the issue hasn't been settled.

    Second, it is disingenuous to claim that all ~500 signers of the petition are in full support of neutrality agreements. This is because at least a few students don't understand the mechanics of the contract. This is fine, because comprehension of an issue isn't requisite for signing a petition. So as Danielle suggested, we may find students expressing their support for social justice in signing SLAP's petition, even if they don't fully support neutrality agreements. Accordingly, SLAP should make note about what their many signatures support. Are the signers of the petition in support of the nebulous idea of social justice / workers' rights, or do they support the neutrality agreement in particular?

    It also seems like you've defined 'informed' to be 'supportive of neutrality agreements.' While this might be in line with modern pop-liberalism, it's not constructive here, as the two concepts are not necessarily consistent.

  • Soren Larson

    I should respond to Ali, too. While the efforts of SLAP are commendable, it isn't enough for SLAP to have put these panels together, handed out flyers, and put together a petition. It's true that these steps are important steps to take to come to a great solution. But in the end, it's not enough that lots of people believe that a neutrality agreement is a great idea. It must be that a neutrality agreement *is* a great idea.

    SLAP has an agenda: it's interest is not in figuring out the best way to protect workers' rights. Rather it has decided that workers rights are best protected and social justice is best propagated under unionization. So it's rather duplicitous to claim that SLAP has put together an informed discussion when none of its events or pamphlets have included any testimony from business leaders. If SLAP were really interested in protecting workers' rights in the best way possible, they would have invited business leaders to testify as to why union-free (or not union-free) business is in the interest of shareholders and workers.

  • Jordan

    Ali's post about informed signers:

    I find your argument that all of the signers of the petition are well informed to quite likely be untrue. For instance, I have heard and seen the following:

    In McCabe, a SLAP member asked a person to sign a petition. The person respond, "Yes, what for?" If all of the signers were actually well informed, shouldn't the response have been, "Maybe, what for?" and then considered the pros and cons of SLAP's petition before signing?

    Second, in Sharples, the phrasing used by many SLAP members was along the lines of "Want to sign a petition to ensure a better workplace?" And then people signed the petition without questioning what "a better workplace" meant. While it is commendable that many people did stop to ask questions, and even better that they went home to research the topic before signing the petition, it does call into question at least some of SLAP's signatures.

    I am not saying that the petition is a bad idea (I signed it). I am merely saying that using the number of signatures as a reason for why StuCo should add its name to the petition is questionable. Even if all 500 or so signatures were from well informed signers, that still wouldn't represent a majority of the campus. Given that many signers were ill-informed, the petition represents a much smaller proportion of the campus. If StuCo's job is to represent the campus, why does it need to sign the petition? If individual members of StuCo support the petition, they should sign it themselves, and they should feel free to urge others to sign it. But it does not follow that StuCo, on 7-0-2 vote, should sign it.

    A StuCo endorsement, as Simon's objection points out, carries broader implications than individuals endorsing the petition. The 7 members who voted in favor of signing the petition I am sure also signed it as individuals. Signing it again as StuCo seems like an unnecessary step.

  • Peter ’11

    "If SLAP were really interested in protecting workers' rights in the best way possible, they would have invited business leaders to testify as to why union-free (or not union-free) business is in the interest of shareholders and workers."

    Soren, I don't see how that follows at all. Seems to me that they would find business owners' opinions to be innately serving of themselves, and not workers, and thus biased in a way that it would only make sense to include them for the purpose of some misplaced sense of "balance." If anything, it might make more sense to argue that they are systematically ignoring all of the *workers* or *labor experts* who are against unions, to support their own opinion. I haven't seen any evidence that they're doing this, or that most workers don't support unions. If they are, I'm afraid it's up to you and Danielle to figure that out and bring in some other views. Pretending it's SLAP's responsibility to do that and calling them "disingenuous" for not doing so is a teeny bit…disingenuous.

    Sidenote: Please retire that word for a little while. You:disingenuous as Swatties:problematic. Duplicitous, though! That was a new one!

  • Danielle, ’14

    I have researched neutrality agreements, particularly their increase in recent years during the decline of unionization as a whole. My understanding is that they have been a mechanism for unions to exert control in a climate that is otherwise rather hostile to them. Thus far, I have encountered no definition of a neutrality agreement that is not coupled with the cardcheck measure and the silence of the employeer. Also, for the record, I was at the Hotel Panel. I enjoyed the workers' testimony, but found the one-sidedness of the conversation troubling. For instance, it would have been nice to hear from a Marriott hotel worker, who, because of Marriott's policies, is non-union. I do not doubt that many petition-signers were well-informed. However, I am disappointed folks seem to think that supporting social justice and wanting to enact a neutrality agreement are the same thing. Please don't accuse me of lies or being anti-worker. It seems unlikely that the 93 % of private sector companies who do not involve unions are inherently anti-worker. If my anxiety over the neutrality agreement is indeed unfounded, than I ought to be easy to refute, right? So go ahead…refute me. Would the proposed neutrality agreement impose a cardcheck, union access to the property, and a gag rule? If it doesn't, then this needs to be clarified, since that would make this agreement something of an exception.

  • Peter ’11


    Might you like to forward your own outline for how a truly fair, actually neutral system of regulation might go down? Would you agree that there are problems in not regulating the system at all, in which case we're all in favor of some sort of intervention but merely disagree on the best methodology for ensuring both viewpoint have equal, noncoercive representation?

  • Phil Chodrow


    A quick google search suggests that you're pretty much correct in your assertion that most neutrality agreements include a cardcheck and a gag rule. I think the more substantive question is whether these practices are bad ones, which unduly harm employers and employees. Maybe you could start the argument in that direction? What are the harms of card checks, and of gag rules? What are the benefits? Do the former outweigh the latter?


  • Soren Larson


    You wrote:

    "Seems to me that they would find business owners' opinions to be innately serving of themselves, and not workers, and thus biased in a way that it would only make sense to include them for the purpose of some misplaced sense of "balance.""

    Recall that firms are only units defined by their shareholders and workers. You falsely claim self-interest to the detriment of others follows from self-interest for firm-leaders. It's not true that firm owners always maximize profits by choosing the highest wage for themselves and picking the lowest workable wage for their employees. Think about the consequences of doing that for a firm whose interest is making the biggest profit. It's theoretically impossible for a firm to pay below market wages, so I'm not sure what you're getting at.

    If you still don't believe me, I'll concede and agree leave it at that SLAP should have invited an economist or two.

  • Pro-Election

    If you want a "truly fair, actually neutral system of regulation", I recommend secret ballots, administered by a third party, with heavy fines against any employer who attempts to intimidate a worker into voting a specific way. Kinda like the ones mandated by national labor laws, and banned by neutrality/card check agreements.

    Here's a fun statistic:
    Unionization rate of secret ballots: ~50%
    Unionization rate of card check collections combined with gag rule (i.e. neutrality agreement): ~80%.

    30% is a disturbingly large difference. There are essentially two conclusions one could draw:
    1) Elections are not the best way to determine the intent of the workers (in which case, our entire system of democracy has a problem)
    2) Card check is not the best way to determine the intent of the workers.

    Rather than have a card check system (which is clearly bias), could we have a neutrality agreement that ensures a fair election free of intimidation? I support workers rights, but I also support elections. Can't I be both?

  • william


    Gag Rule- Employees are only permitted to hear one side of the story: the version the union officials want employees to hear. The mere existence of this type of restriction makes the term Neutrality Agreement laughable.

    Card check- Under such an agreement, employees are not permitted to vote on union representation in a secret ballot election monitored by the NLRB. As Pro election noted,who could possibly be opposed to this?

    Neutrality agreements frequently require that the company provide personal information about employees to the union, including where employees and their families live.

    Employees' rights of free choice are sacrificed and lost under so-called 'neutrality agreements." Instead of being able to freely choose for themselves whether they desire union representation through a secret ballot election, management and union officials work together to impose unionization on workers from the top down.

    Big Labor spent a tremendous amount of money in 200 8 in hopes of ramming a card check bill through.The stalled legislation has forced labor to shift their tactics to an executive-branch power grab.The walking conflict of interest that is BO's new appointment to the NLRB, Craig Becker has already hinted at such.He suggested that card-check legislation could be implemented administratively, without congressional authorization. Just another example of the we know whats best for you,whether you like it or not mentality.

  • Danielle, ’14

    Thanks William. Finally we're highlighting the downside of neutrality acts. Not only does card-check violate First Amendment rights of the employer, it flies in the face of NLRB policy. Alas, neutrality agreements are not neutral…

    Pro-election, you're completely on target. If unions are desirable in a workplace, they ought to be established in a democratic fashion (i.e. the secret ballot). Of course, to my knowledge, there's no such thing as a neutrality agreement that exists alongside the secret ballot. "Neutrality" is just a politically expedient tactic to avoid explaining the anti-democratic card check measure. This was a big issue in the '06 and '08 election, and a lot of Dems found the issue quite sticky, just to give you some perspective. This is definitely not a mainstream initiative.

    Now, some folks have countered this argument by saying that the voice of the employee is more valuable than the employeer. Perhaps people feel that way, and perhaps we should prioritize workers over businessmen. However, making one group more important and creating a hierarchy where some folks receive the right to speech and others don't is, well, unconstitutional. Card-check might be construed as pro-worker, but it is definitely not pro-democracy.

  • err

    Know what's anti-democratic? Lying to workers and telling them that a union is their enemy.

  • err

    A hierarchy where some folks receive the right to speech and others don't?

    Sounds like a workplace without any union!

  • err

    Labor organizations are very pro-democracy when we live in a country where business lobbying and corporate political contributions are virtually unchecked.

  • Soren Larson


    I try to avoid pronouncing banalities, but your pop-bite one-liners aren't facilitating this discussion.

  • william

    Ok Err- I'll bite just once

    "Know what's anti-democratic? Lying to workers and telling them that a union is their enemy."

    Know what's immoral? Having almost 800 convictions primarily involving union officers and employees who have embezzled union funds.Court-ordered restitution of nearly $102 million this decade alone.

  • err

    102 million dollars in a decade? Are you serious? That is POCKET CHANGE. How much money was stolen from our economy by the criminals in the financial industry? How much money was stolen at Enron, Worldcom, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., ETC.? 102 million dollars is NOTHING AT ALL.

  • Phil Chodrow


    Certainly, if secret ballots were practicable and fair, then unionization by secret ballot would be the right way to go. It seems that the claim on the part of those who advocated for neutrality agreements is that secret ballots are not, in fact, fair, because they leave workers open to intimidation claims. I think that your idea for a third-party-administered election with punishments for employers who intimidate workers is an interesting one, though I’m a bit in doubt about its practicality. How will courts decide what counts as an instance of intimidation? Will every such instance be open to punishment? How high would the punishments need to be in order for the company not to have an incentive to intimidate workers anyway? Etc. I’d love to hear any answers you might have to such questions. I’d also appreciate a citation on your statistic.


    Neutrality agreements are premised in part on the claim that in their absence, employers are likely to intimidate workers against unionization. If neutrality agreements lead to a fair*er* workplace, then that is an argument in their favor. I certainly won’t claim that neutrality agreements don’t lead to greater rates of unionization over their alternatives, and I won’t claim that gag-rules don’t help unions in their cause. The point proponents make is that the agreements are nevertheless fairer than their alternatives. Pro-Election has challenged this claim with his secret ballots idea. I find this one problematic, but the thought is a great one. Just pointing out that gag rules are not “neutral” in the strict sense of the term doesn’t mean that they are not, nevertheless, justified. Perhaps you could make that argument?

    Again, secret ballots are open to intimidation tactics, even under previous attempts of careful monitoring. For instance, the study “ “Fact Over Fiction: Opposition to Card Check Doesn't Add Up,” by researchers at Rutgers and Jesuit Wheeling Universities, found that 46% of workers reported intimidation on the part of employers in the course of NLRB elections.* Maybe this is a case for more careful monitoring, or maybe this is a case for a neutrality agreement. If the former turns out to be impracticable, then the latter seems like a good choice.

    The same study found that employees reported intimidation by management (23%) at a higher rate than intimidation by unions (14%), *even under card check agreements.* Thus, the notion that the management somehow colludes in the unionization, or that card check agreements make employees excessively vulnerable to union intimidation, seems empirically questionable.

    *Note that this study was commissioned by the group American Rights at Work. Those who wish to do so might interpret this fact as indication of bias. You can find a blurb on the study here:


    You claim that gag rules violate the First Amendment rights of employers. I don’t find this quite obvious: maybe you could explain it? I’m also a bit unclear as to how card-check neutrality is anti-democratic, as you suggest.

    Again, I don’t think anyone credible in this argument is suggesting that “the voice of the employee is more valuable than the employer”—just that employees need protection.


    Thanks for calling out Err on this one, and I entirely agree with you.


    With that in mind, I’d love it if you’d join the conversation; you’ve lent some great insight into our previous discussions, and I’m sure that you could do so again if you so chose.


  • william


    Can a study by a group funded by the AFL-CIO and Change To Win be counted as empirical evidence?

    "Neutrality agreements are premised in part on the claim that in their absence, employers are likely to intimidate workers against unionization."

    So is it Labors contention that the decline of private sector union membership is a result of employer intimidation? There are many more plausible reasons for labors decline,the changing economy and the fact that Government has assumed custody of key union provisions are just a few.

    If unions have such appealing product to sell. Surely, they can persuade workers to support them in the privacy of a voting booth. The notion that employees won't vote their interests in a secret ballot makes little sense.

    As far as justification of gag rules,it seems unions, have apparently concluded that their own record is in part leading to the decline in
    membership.Their answer to this problem is legislating companies into remaining silent about all the facts relevant to unionization.

    There are also some equally troubling aspects of this legislation that are being overlooked. Section three being the chief among them.

  • william

    "102 million dollars in a decade? Are you serious? That is POCKET CHANGE. How much money was stolen from our economy by the criminals in the financial industry? How much money was stolen at Enron, Worldcom, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., ETC.? 102 million dollars is NOTHING AT ALL."

    How is this is relevant to this discussion ?

  • Danielle, ’14

    I second William. If unionization is desirable and necessary, surely workers will vote for them in a secret-ballot election. Card-check measures are a way for union bosses to utilize the bully pulpit and circumvent the decline of unionization in recent decades.

    Phil, a gag rule silences an employer's right to speek on his behalf regarding his thoughts on unions. Every business owner in America is not some deceptive fat cat. And regardless of whether or not the actual start-up entrepreneur of a business has something valuable to contribute to this conversation (although I would argue his opinion is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT), that right is very well protected under free speech, not to mention NLRB policy. I thought Americans prioritized hearing BOTH sides of a debate, not just the positions of the AFLCIO and the like.

    The Wagner act emerged because workers were being silenced. Have we gone so far in the other direction that it's suddenly ok to silence the businessman?

    If neutrality agreements ought to be touted as the worker-loving arrangements they are, then why have pro-worker government groups like the NLRB approached this topic with so much trepidation? Why have even politicians like Clinton and Obama tap-danced around this if its so laudable?

    Peter, my thoughts on unions are that they've over-extended their original purpose. I don't doubt that they were necessary during the heyday of industrialization and worker-exploitation. But when people are trying to paint a small inn in a town like Swarthmore as some sort of meatpacking malaise I do get frustrated. With that said, if I'm wrong and a union is needed, let's go with the secret ballot. I'm all for that.

  • err

    It isn’t directly relevant at all, I am just putting your number in perspective by pointing out that corruption in big business happens on a MUCH MUCH vaster scale than in labor.
    10 million dollars per year of funds embezzled is less than a dollar per union member. But telling a worker that 60 cents per year of their money will be stolen by corrupt unions doesn’t sound like a very big deal! In fact, it sounds like nothing, because it is nothing, just like your vacant, deceitful arguments. Your statistic was misleading, designed to play on outdated (and prejudiced) fears and stereotypes that depict unions as corrupt, mafia-ridden cartels.
    By the way, this sentence either absolutely wrong: “The notion that employees won't vote their interests in a secret ballot makes little sense.” As someone who deploys meaningless numbers and irrational stereotypes to influence people, you should know better! 60 cents a year! It’s a joke, but unfortunately it isn’t funny because people actually buy this crap. People working low wage jobs, people who might be able to get health insurance for their kids if they got a union.

  • Jordan

    I want to open up a slightly different avenue for the discussion. If we assume that a neutrality agreement is a good thing (and that's a big assumption as the comments clearly show), does it follow that StuCo should add its name to the petition?

    It seems like the arguments over the benefits and costs of the neutrality agreement have been hashed and rehashed both here and in the comments to previous articles. Given that this article speaks to StuCo signing the petition, why not bring in that element?

  • william

    Vacant deceitful arguments? All caps and three exclamation points,you win.

  • err


    My "pop-bite one-liners" are not meant to facilitate the shallow, banal understanding of democracy you and others have been pushing in this thread, they are meant to make you stop and think. Well I guess that didn’t work, so here are some pop-bite paragraphs.

    The presence of a ballot box and the absence of physical coercion are necessary but far from sufficient conditions for democratic expression, representation, and governance. Our country's founders knew this, which is why they rightly dismissed the idea of radical direct democracy and instituted systems of checks and balances.
    When ballot boxes are strategically placed by those in power they can be anti-democratic in effect–in the case we are discussing here, workers get to vote "freely" on unionization but not on anything else! What a sham this workplace "democracy" is, where workers are systematically tricked, coerced, and lied to (think William acting like 60 cents a year is a big deal) by management so that they vote away their right to have any voice, any vote, any power (any raises, any benefits, any security)! It's democracy like the "democracy" in the pre-civil rights South. Soren, I bet you could come up with a great economic argument for why African-Americans didn't vote but whites did! I'm sure you could absolutely TRASH much of the Voting Rights Act for its racist, paternalistic assumption that disenfranchised minorities weren't perfectly happy with their positions and needed help from the law. Many of them thought voting would only cause trouble, and who were we to say that political voice and representation would be good for them? Many workers think that a union will only cause trouble, and who are we to say that a union would actually be good for them? This is far from a perfect analogy but I hope it forces a response.

    So anyway, is anybody willing to talk seriously about what makes for a democratic workplace and a democratic society? Or will you all continue with the market metaphors and analogies?

    Should we uphold, work toward, and discuss issues in terms of the ideal of "government of the people, by the people, for the people", or is it better to talk about "government of the 'rational' individual, by lawyers, marketers, and demagogues, for GDP growth"? I don't like the callous, cynical way that the concept of "democracy" in these comments is being narrowed, understood as a consumer market (William and Soren both treat union membership as a consumer good), and then strategically deployed in an attempt to make markets run more smoothly. In this thread we can see democracy being minimized, marketized and treated as a means instead of an end. Democracy as a series of opinion polls and focus group is the end result of this kind of thinking! This is really disturbing to me, and I hope it is disturbing to others who value democracy, regardless of their place on the political spectrum!

    Re: “the voice of the employee is more valuable than the employer”

    I'd say it is more valuable, though not intrinsically. We have far too much employer voice in this country right now, and far too little labor voice. But I guess I'm not credible! I guess it's craaaaaaazy to say that we have a money-in-politics problem right now. I guess Danielle is right and this isn't a "mainstream" idea anymore.

    I forgot that we now live in a post-racial, post-ideological, post-class society where everyone is equal. I forgot that difference doesn't matter anymore, and that there are no hierarchies except when Big Government or Big Labor interferes with the natural workings of the fair and meritocratic free market. I guess I'm just clueless and need to get with the program.

    Okay I don't think that you believe this Phil. But I think some of your friendly "discussion" partners do.

  • Danielle, ’14

    Comparing Big Labor's roundabout way of avoiding NLRB policy to the Voting Right acts is a scare-tactic. I'm flustered that my criticism of folks wanting to impose a gag rule on employers makes me somehow anti-democratic. Err, the government-union relations you envision are perhaps more progressive and equalizing, but I don't think they're democratic. Democracy says everyone is equal before the law, not before the economy. Neutrality agreements violate the First Amendment, plain and simple.

    Jordan raised a good point. I don't think it's StuCo's place to endorse the petition, especially since we're aware of the casual manner in which petitions like these (not just this particular one..) are signed. I wasn't at the meeting, but was StuCo informed of the card check and gag rule policies that come with neutrality acts? If the information they were given was simply the "employers and employees won't fight" explanation, then I see that as problematic. But regardless of the issue, group or political affiliation, I don't want a student council which endorses petitions. I view StuCo as a mediator of all stripes of discourse and student concern. If StuCo is publicly behind the politics of SLAP, it is very difficult for students like myself and others to voice discontent. SLAP was well within its goals as a group to initiate a petition, but when StuCo gets involved, things get a little murkier.

  • Phil Chodrow


    Is the study I cited biased? Perhaps, although then we need to start thinking about the methodology. In any case, the statistics I offered you are the only statistics with citations in this discussion. If you can present contrary ones, I’d be interested to see the case. In the meantime, the only reasonable position is that it is markedly unclear whether card check measures place employees at increased risk of union intimidation.

    I’m not quite sure what your point is with the decline of private sector union membership—as you point out, there are plenty of interesting explanations for this phenomenon. It’s unclear to me why this would have bearing on questions of employer intimidation.

    Regrettably, there are a number of problems relating to the assumption that employees vote their interests in secret ballots. Employer threats to close workplaces or remove benefits en masse from employees will and do cause employees to alter their votes.

    I’m a bit unclear as to your point on gag rules, and I’d appreciate it if you could expand it further.


    It’s true that gag rules prevent employers from speaking their thoughts on unions. What’s not clear to me is that this right is protected under free speech. Remember, not all forms of speech are protected. One such form of speech is credible threats. To use Raz’s formulation of rights, to show that employers have a right to speak their thoughts on unions in the workplace requires that we show that employers have an interest in doing so which is sufficiently compelling to hold others to be under a duty not to hamper them. I’m not sure this case has been made, and I’d be interested to see you make it. What I would certainly deny is that there’s any “plain and simple” violation of the First Amendment.

    Interestingly, I agree with you that it’s not really the place of StuCo to take a stand on this issue. As I understand StuCo, its mission is to act as a representative body on the interests of students as a whole, “a mediator of all stripes of discourse and student concern,” as you eloquently put it. I don’t really see that there’s much point to StuCo endorsing the petition, and I don’t really see that it’s within StuCo’s proper role.


    I guess what I’d say re the relative value of voices is that these voices are equally valuable, but that employers have disproportionate ability to express their voice. The substance of our thoughts on the matter is probably the same. I further agree that it is misleading to make the assumptions you describe concerning the workings of the free market, though I’m not sure who you think is making those assumptions.


  • Soren Larson


    I'm not sure the analogy you write is relevant here. I say so because the kind of voting that is associated with the neutrality agreement is not the same kind of secret ballot voting conducted in our political elections. Card check involves the public signing of cards to initiate unionization within the workplace. It seems rather uncontroversial to me that argue that voting in public subjects voters to peer pressure and potentially harassment that leads to votes that don't reflect true voter intention. If you claim firms intimidate workers, you must allow that unions engage in it too. This is especially true because it is unions best interest to engage in it if their business opponent does so.

    Before i respond to your notes about fostering a Democratic workplace, you need to specify what, for you, a 'more democratic workplace' entails.

    Finally, I will emphasize Jordan's point that StuCo should not have voted on behalf of the student body. First, StuCo did not even have a majority of the student body's signatures on this. Second, many of the signatures they used to justify their vote in the name of the student body probably aren't legit (i.e. as Jordan wrote, Q: "Want to sign a petition?" A: "Sure, what's it for?"). Most importantly, however, StuCo has no place in seizing the support of the student body on this issue. For good reason, StuCo is the sister organization to the College Dems, and as Phil noted, needs to be a "mediator of all stripes of discourse." It's clear that StuCo brushed aside this responsibility in making this vote, and accordingly failed the student body in this regard. I am thankful that Simon recognized this and abstained from voting.

  • bLb

    I might not agree with much the 'conservatives' have said on here, but I do agree that StuCo had absolutely no right to get in on this.

  • Soren Larson

    fix: For good reason, StuCo is *not* the sister organization…

  • Huzilla

    LOL @ stuco creating a resource guide. They've been saying that they would do this for years, yet they haven't gotten this done. Don't believe me? Look at some of the former member's platforms.

  • william


    "Thus, the notion that the management somehow colludes in the unionization… seems empirically questionable"

    Allow me to clarify my top down assertion. Neutrality Agreements are becoming very sophisticated. There are several court cases pending dealing with active organizational assistance on the part of employers. In what amounts to basically a quid pro quo arrangement.Unions in exchange for the companies active assistance negotiate substantive terms of employment before they have the legal authority to do so. Contrary to what some want to believe,It can be said that unions are not purely altruistic institutions.They are no different then any other American business that operates under the weight of a balance sheet.