Industry Groups Say Union Card-Check Bill Violates Principles of International Law

ballot boxNew York, N.Y., March 18, 2009 – The proposed “card-check” bill currently before Congress, which would effectively eliminate secret ballots for employees to form unions, may violate longstanding international legal principles, according to a joint letter from two top industry groups.

The United States Council for International Business (USCIB) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have sent a letter to Congress spelling out how provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) contradict the principles of international labor law as defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

“It’s disturbing that labor unions, which for years have pressed for integration of ILO labor standards into U.S. law and trade agreements, would be pushing to introduce a system that violates ILO standards,” said Adam Greene, USCIB’s vice president for labor and corporate responsibility.

USCIB is the American employers representative to the ILO, a tripartite United Nations body with representation from governments, businesses and trade unions that sets international labor standards and works to promote improved labor practices worldwide.  The International Organization of Employers (IOE) is the worldwide organization that coordinates business participation in the ILO.

The joint industry letter highlighted two provisions in the card-check bill, which would modify the National Labor Relations Act.   They would effectively eliminate the secret ballot in union elections and impose a compulsory arbitration scheme to set the terms of initial collective bargaining agreements.  The business groups said these were inconsistent with the ILO’s 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The ILO calls secret ballot elections the preferred means for workers to select a union, since workers face far less risk of reprisal.  The UN body also discourages compulsory arbitration schemes, saying they interfere with voluntary collective bargaining and freedom of association.

“Congress needs to think long and hard about whether we really want to place the United States so far outside the agreed international norms on this issue,” said Mr. Greene.  “Even prisoners of war, under the Geneva Conventions, are guaranteed the right to a secret ballot when electing their representatives.”

These arguments will be elaborated in more detail in a forthcoming article by attorney Stefan Jan Marculewicz in the IOE’s 2009 International Labor and Social Policy Review.

USCIB promotes international engagement and prudent regulation in support of open markets, competitiveness and innovation, sustainable development and corporate responsibility. Its members include top U.S.-based global companies and professional services firms from every sector of our economy, with operations in every region of the world.  With a unique global network encompassing leading international business organizations, including the IOE, USCIB provides business views to policy makers and regulatory authorities worldwide, and works to facilitate international trade and investment.  More information is available at

Jonathan Huneke, VP Communications, USCIB
Tel: +1 212.703.5043 (office) or +1 917.420.0039 (mobile)

Joint industry letter on Employee Free Choice Act

Article: “Elimination of the Secret Ballot Union Election and Compulsory Arbitration Under The Employee Free Choice Act – A Violation of Fundamental Principles of International Labor Law

More on USCIB’s Labor and Employment Committee

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Kira Yevtukhova manages USCIB’s print and online publications, including the website, e-newsletter and quarterly magazine, and serves as the organization’s digital media strategist. Prior to this role, Kira worked for over five years within USCIB’s Policy Department, focusing on climate change, environment, nutrition, health, and chemicals related policy issues. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College and has an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
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