Analysis: New Scotland agrees to let unionization proceed

NEW SCOTLAND — The town of New Scotland has agreed to take a neutral position in response to employees’ recent efforts to unionize.

The town board at a special Aug. 22 meeting passed a resolution to voluntarily recognize the Civil Service Employees Association as the “exclusive bargaining agent for the purpose of collective bargaining” for about 17 blue-collar workers in New Scotland’s highway, water and sewer, mechanic, transfer station, and parks departments. 

Acknowledgment of the union is contingent upon a majority of workers signing dues-deduction authorization cards, a process known as a card check,  which is to be overseen “by a mutually agreed upon independent third party.”

Finding enough workers to authorize the dues deduction doesn’t appear as if it will be much of a problem. 

In early August, highway worker Ben Kawczak, one of three under-30-year-old town employees leading the organizing effort, told The Enterprise about 90 percent of workers in the five town departments were on board with unionization. 

In a statement to the paper this week, Kawczak said, “We had hoped that they would recognize our union by voluntary recognition. It is unclear, with this recent letter and declaration of neutrality, why they did not choose to just recognize our union already, but we are glad that it sounds like management will remain neutral and not stand in the way of our union. Time will tell if they stick to their word.”

But Brian Selchick, a labor attorney retained by the town, said New Scotland is doing exactly what was asked of it.

Outright acknowledgement would not only not follow either of the two accepted authorization processes, Selchick said, it’s not what CSEA wanted, because it’s “not what CSEA requested,” he said.

In a July 25 letter sent to Supervisor Douglas LaGrange and signed by Kawczak and the other two town workers spearheading the unionization push,  Christian Tomlin and Connor Weightman, the town was asked “to voluntarily recognize and negotiate with the union of the employees’ choice.”

Selchick said included as part of the voluntary recognition process was a card check, because to not verify that a majority of employees did in fact want union representation could be seen as improper or unfair.

Even if the type of voluntary recognition Kawczak was looking for isn’t in the cards, the process he and his fellow workers have been left with is still a pretty good deal.

There are effectively two paths to forming a union in America: a certified secret ballot election and a card check. If the employees seeking to unionize are in the private sector, the process is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. In New York, for workers employed by the state or any governmental authorities or subdivisions, the process is overseen by the Public Employment Relations Board.

Under current labor law, a secret ballot election occurs only after a worker or union has filed a petition with the board requesting the vote, which only happens after 30 percent of workers have signed a card authorizing a union to bargain on their behalf.

Ballot elections have become such contentious affairs they’ve spawned a cottage industry: union avoidance  consulting

For nearly a half-century, big business has fought to take back the gains made by workers in the decades following World War II, a period of prosperity, worker empowerment, and government accountability, anathema to America’s capitalists who were enduring a course correction of their own making due to earlier efforts by the nation’s titans of industry at sinking the country’s economy to depths previously never seen.

The assault on workers’ rights, according to one the London School of Economics academic, has been called “one of the most successful anti-union wars ever,” which has led scholars to identify employer hostility as playing a significant role in the “slow strangulation” of American’ unions. 

It’s against this backdrop that workers have sought to make up ground they’ve been steadily losing for four decades.

One way unions have kept their heads above water has been seeking voluntary recognition through card check, a process that is initiated when 30 percent of employees express interest in joining a union. 

This method, which is used far less than the secret ballot, has proven far more effective than the traditional casting of ballots, which is due in no small part to management’s willingness to step aside and let the process play out, and is set to repeat itself on Sept. 6 in New Scotland. 

Sept. 6 is the “date that we floated to the union” for the card check to take place, Selchick said, which, as of Aug. 28, had yet to respond to the proposal.

More New Scotland News

  • Supervisor Douglas LaGrange spoke of an unnamed man who died in a townhouse in an unnamed development in New Scotland that does not have a homeowners’ association. The man’s side of the house has been vacant “quite a while,” LaGrange said and it’s “very hard to make sure it’s kept up.”

  • Voorheesville has required that taxes be mailed in since the 2020, removing the option to pay in person, which has frustrated some people. Now, however, the district allows for online payments, which Assistant Superintendent for Finance Jim Southard says make the process easier for taxpayers. 

  • Ed Mitzen spent much of his childhood in Voorheesville before going on to national renown as the founder of Business for Good, a not-for-profit that practices what he calls “venture philanthropy,” and which is now developing two businesses in the village where Mitzen grew up. 

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