Saint Louis University Public Law Review


The use of “card checks” as a method of union organizing has recently garnered a lot of attention, much of it surrounding the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. If passed, this legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act by requiring employers to recognize a union when the employer is presented with evidence of majority support for union recognition via union authorization cards. Although the proposed bill has had difficulty gaining traction in the U.S. Congress, several states have recently passed similar legislation covering state and local public employees. In this article, we compare card-check organizing by public sector employees in Illinois and Ohio. In both states, card-check organizing has been allowed since 1983. However, in 2003 Illinois amended its statute to require employers to recognize unions on the basis of card checks, while no similar change occurred in Ohio. A comparative analysis of public sector organizing activity in Illinois and Ohio, before and after the Illinois law was changed, identifies the effects of changes in the law and explores the possible implications in other contexts. In a sense, the experience of these two states provides a natural experiment on the effects of public sector card-check legislation on organizing activity.

Data was collected from state labor relations agencies in Illinois and Ohio to examine the overall levels and patterns of organizing activity in both states during the period under study (1999-2008), as well as specific contextual conditions associated with organizing activity in the two states. Our data show that in Ohio, where card-check recognition is voluntary, elections run by the state labor agency have been the dominant means of organizing new members. That was also the case in Illinois until 2003, when mandatory card-check legislation was enacted. Since then, the most organizing has occurred via the mandatory card-check provision. Moreover, we find the Illinois’ legislation not only facilitated union organizing, but also expanded their organizing activity into different contexts.

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