Understanding Card-Check Organizing: The Public Sector Experience

52 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2010 Last revised: 28 Jun 2010

See all articles by Rafael Gely

Rafael Gely

University of Missouri School of Law

Timothy Chandler

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - E.J. Ourso College of Business Administration

Date Written: June 14, 2010


The use of “card checks” as a method of union organizing has recently garnered considerable attention, much of it surrounding the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. The proposed legislation seeks to 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 card checks. Despite this recent interest in card checks, there is little empirical research on the topic due, in part, to the lack of available data. Although card-check organizing in the private sector is not rare, such organizing is voluntary, and does not require government approval. Thus, there is little data chronicling the frequency of such events. However, card-check legislation has become increasingly common among public employees at the state and local levels. In this article, we draw upon the public sector experience to help fill the gap in our understanding of card-check organizing. In particular, the article explores card-check organizing by public sector employees in Illinois which has allowed card-check organizing since 1983, but which in 2003 amended its statute to require employers to recognize unions on the basis of card checks, and Ohio which also has allowed card-check recognition to occur since 1983, but has not passed legislation requiring card-check recognition. An analysis of public sector organizing activity in Illinois before and after the law was changed, allows us to identify the effects of changes in the law and to explore the possible implications in other contexts. Moreover, by comparing the Illinois’ experience to that of Ohio, we can more fully understand the extent to which both the presence and absence of card check legislation may have affected organizing activity. The experience of these two states provides us with a natural experiment on the effects of public sector card check legislation on organizing activity.

We use data 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 (1998-2008), 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 predominant means of organizing new members. That was also the case in Illinois until 2003, when mandatory card-check legislation was enacted. Since then, the overwhelming majority of organizing has occurred via the mandatory card-check provision. Moreover, cross-sectional (i.e., Illinois and Ohio) and time-series (i.e., pre and post card check legislation in Illinois) comparisons of various contextual characteristics associated with organizing activity provide a more complete picture of the effects of the Illinois’ legislation. For part of our analysis, we use a methodological technique known as Qualitative Comparative Analysis (“QCA”) to identify combinations of conditions that are distinctively associated with the use of either card-checks or elections. We find that the Illinois’ legislation not only facilitated the ability of unions to organize, but also that unions responded by shifting to card checks as their primary means of organizing under certain contextual conditions and by expanding their organizing activity into different contexts.

Keywords: card-check organizing, public sector labor law

JEL Classification: J45, J53, J58

Suggested Citation

Gely, Rafael and Chandler, Timothy, Understanding Card-Check Organizing: The Public Sector Experience (June 14, 2010). University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1625002 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1625002

Rafael Gely (Contact Author)

University of Missouri School of Law ( email )

Missouri Avenue & Conley Avenue
Columbia, MO MO 65211
United States

Timothy Chandler

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge - E.J. Ourso College of Business Administration ( email )

Department of Management
Baton Rouge, LA 70803-6308
United States
225.578.6113 (Phone)

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