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Employee Free Choice Act crushes workers' right to cast secret votes

Saturday, August 30, 2008 - 8:00pm

August 31, 2008

WASHINGTON —Labor Day signals the beginning of the sprint toward the November elections, when Americans cast a secret ballot for the candidates of their choice.

Sadly, this year—whether they know it or not—voters may very well be deciding whether to do away with that sacred tradition when it comes to union organizing campaigns.

That's because the fate of legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act—better known as the Card Check law—may depend on what happens in November. Unions are pouring as much as $400 million into the 2008 campaign to ensure that the next Congress will pass Card Check, effectively stripping workers of the private ballot.

How would this unprecedented power grab work?

Traditional union organizing relies on secret-ballot elections overseen by the federal government. Prior to the election, both unions and employers make their cases to workers. If more than 50 percent of workers then vote to form a union, the employer must recognize that union and begin collective bargaining.

The key is that regardless of what either side tells workers, and regardless of what workers say about their intentions, individual workers get to make their final decisions in private, and no one knows how they voted. This is a critical protection that assures honest elections.

The Card Check law, however, would essentially abolish secret-ballot elections. Instead, union organizers would simply ask workers to sign a card. Any worker who refused could be asked over and over again, and even be repeatedly visited by union organizers in their homes.

Once a bare majority was persuaded to sign a card, the union would be recognized, and it would be illegal to have a secret ballot election. All workers would then be forced into the union, whether they had signed a card, whether they wanted an election and whether they even knew there was an organizing drive under way.

So how do unions justify this violation of workers' freedom?

Unions argue that Card Check would not get rid of secret-ballot elections; it would just give workers the choice of organizing through an election or by Card Check.

In reality, since union organizers are the ones gathering the cards, they would decide which method to use—and the $400 million they are spending to pass Card Check makes their intentions absolutely clear.

Moreover, Section 2 of the legislation states that the government "shall not direct an election." And as The Los Angeles Times wrote in 2007, "The legislation would do away with a secret ballot in so-called organizing elections."

Unions also claim that Card Check is needed because there is too much pressure put on workers during secret-ballot elections.

Indeed, during election campaigns, workers can face real pressure from unions, from employers and from co-workers. But Card Check will make this worse. Forcing workers to sign cards publicly is simply an open invitation for harassment, coercion and intimidation that would make current organizing practices seem tame by comparison.

Finally, unions claim that Card Check is the only way to ensure that workers can really express free choice. But unions don't want to use Card Check procedures when workers vote on decertifying a union. For that process, unions still advocate the secret ballot. Seems they want an easy way in, but don't want workers to have an easy way out.

Casting a private ballot has been an American right since the beginning of the Republic. This Labor Day, workers need to be on the lookout for those who want to take that right away.

Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (www.uschamber.com), which represents businesses. Readers may write him at USCOC, 1615 H St. NW, Washington D.C. 20062-2000