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Rutgers Professor Discusses Neutrality and Card Check Agreements

November 29, 2010

On Monday, Adrienne Eaton, Chair of the Labor Studies and Employment Relations Department of Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, spoke about her research on neutrality agreements and card checks; both of which are means by which an employer can remain neutral during the unionization of workers.

Eaton’s visit was hosted by Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), among other organizations, in hopes that it would lead to greater understanding of labor relations on campus—especially with plans to build the Swarthmore Town Center West underway.

Eaton explained that normally, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) organizes a secret ballot for workers to decide whether or not they wish to unionize. She explained that during this process, employers frequently pressure workers against voting for the union. A neutrality agreement and card check offer an alternative.

According to Eaton, with neutrality and card check agreements, the management “agrees to either recognize the union via non-NLRB processes and/or to remain neutral during organization.”

Eaton has interviewed workers who have tried to unionize either by NLRB ballot or by neutrality agreement and has found that workers in both situations felt equally “free to choose” during the vote. However, Eaton’s research has also found that there is significantly less pressure on workers who are unionizing under a neutrality agreement from their management, union, and co-workers.

According to one company interviewed by Eaton, the neutrality and card check agreements were “less confrontational” than other methods.

“We’ve found little evidence for anti-card check or neutrality arguments,” said Eaton, citing her finding that workers who organized with neutrality and card check agreements felt that they did not receive as much information as they would have liked in regard to unions and the organizing process as the “one exception.”

Still, Eaton was reluctant to call this finding an “exception” she said that she has also found that once workers have been through an election, “they’re skeptical about the information they got from the management.”

Eaton also mentioned the lack of a secret ballot in neutrality and card check agreements as a reason for why “people are still skeptical about whether [an agreement] is really democratic.” Eaton explained that workers sign card checks in public rather than in private.

Eaton did not comment on labor relations in the specific case of the Swarthmore Town Center West, saying, “I’m not the expert on that.”

  • it’s a small world

    I went to prom with her son.

  • Adam Bortner ’12

    Thanks for this factual article, Nick. It's a good antidote to some of the misinformation that has been circulating on the DG recently.

    I just wanted to add that Prof Eaton also pointed out that the NLRB "secret-ballot" does not automatically mean more democratic, despite where intuition might guide us.

    Under the NLRB process, you only need 50%+1 of those who vote (sometimes the turnout is very poor, as in many other elections… especially if you fear losing your job because of employer threats). Under a card-check process, however, you need 50%+1 of the entire population to have union representation(in this case all the employees).

    So under NLRB elections, which are riddled with coercion and illegal pressure tactics (such as firing workers who want to exercise their legal right to have representation, which happens about 34% of the time according to a recent study by Kate Bonfenbrenner, 2009), you often have many fewer actual voters. On the other hand, you need a true majority of workers under the card-check process, and most importantly, workers report much less pressure(from employers, unions, and co-workers) when employers sign a neutrality agreement.