The Labor Movement Has a Card to Play—And We Need to Play It

Card check, which makes forming a union faster and easier for workers, is the centerpiece of the PRO Act. It’s an essential tool for the labor movement.

In These Times Editors

Terry Laban

card check


Polling shows 48% of non-unionized Americans would join a union if they had the option.

1. The ability for workers to form an official, legally recognized union by simply telling everyone they’re a union (and signing cards that say as much)

The [PRO Act] removes barriers for workers to form unions, protects strikers, helps lock in first union contracts, and a lot more.” —Sara Nelson, International President, Association Of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers Of America

Is this a new idea?

Nope! Card check, also called majority sign-up” (because it requires a simple majority of the workers involved to agree to move forward), has been a thing since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. But as it currently stands in the United States, employers have the option to either recognize the newly formed union or force an additional step: a formal election. Those elections are put on by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); both sides present a case, and then the workers vote. (Fun fact: In These Times editorial and development staff unionized via card check in 2014.) 

Forcing employers to recognize unions formed by card check without an election has long been a priority for labor. It was a centerpiece of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which passed the House in 2007 but stalled during the Obama administration.

Card check sounds way easier than what I had to do to win my union.

Yep! The current unionization process allows employers ample time for some pretty aggressive tactics. Roughly three out of four large employers hire anti-union consultants; more than 40% are charged with violating federal labor law in response to union campaigns. The associated stress and risk are a major reason why just 6% of private-sector workers belong to a union.

What are the prospects for card check under the Biden administration?

Now that Democrats control the Senate, they’re actually pretty good. Joe Biden was a sponsor of the original EFCA and supports its successor, the PRO Act, which passed the House in 2020. Biden’s labor platform also includes some that’d be cool if it really happens” points, such as “[holding] company executives personally liable when they interfere with organizing efforts.”

Will this save the labor movement?

Not by itself! Polling shows 48% of non-unionized Americans would join a union if they had the option. Card check could give us the opportunity to find out if that’s true, just for starters.

This is part of The Big Idea,” a monthly series offering brief introductions to progressive theories, policies, tools and strategies that can help us envision a world beyond capitalism. For recent In These Times coverage of unions in action, see, With Democrats in Full Control, It’s Time to Pass the PRO Act, The Animal Legal Defense Fund Is Busting Its Union With a Smile, and Google Workers Say the Endless Wait to Unionize Big Tech Is Over

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