My column from last week's Potomac News, Push is on to end secret ballot union elections:
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The secret ballot is fundamental to our election process. But it wasn't always that way. It was only through hard lessons learned about voter intimidation that secret ballots gained widespread use by the late 1800s. Only by making it impossible for party bosses, company enforcers, and union thugs to know how a person voted could elections truly be free.
But now labor unions want to end the use of secret ballot elections for employees choosing whether to have union representation. And the Democratic Party is supporting their anti-democratic agenda.
At issue is a practice called the "card check." When a union wants to organize a group of workers, they distribute cards requesting union representation. If 30 percent of the workers sign the cards, the union can force an election. If 50 percent sign up, they can ask the company to recognize them without an election.
Some employers accept union representation when the 50 percent threshold is reached. Others enter into binding agreements to do so, in which the employer actively helps the union obtain signatures from the workers. When a union is accepted based on signatures, it is called a "card check" election. Otherwise, an "NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) election" is held.
Unions are not happy with this process. While over 60 percent of NLRB elections are won by unions, there are many cases where a majority of employees sign the cards but then vote against the union in the election. This seems to indicate that some people sign but don't really want a union. But election opponents see this as a conspiracy to deny workers the representation they want (despite the fact that they vote to reject the union).
So unions are pushing a new law, ironically named the "Employee Free Choice Act," to eliminate elections, and instead certify a union if it collects enough signed cards. This will lead to a lot more unionized businesses. It will also subject anti-union workers to intense prolonged pressure to "support" unionization.
Election opponents claim more workers report coercion in NLRB elections than in card check elections. But that is obvious -- card check elections are only accepted by agreement with the employer. The agreement suggests cooperation which means there is no need for coercion.
The history of "open" elections shows fear, intimidation, and guilt used to force people to vote the "right" way. But a card collection "election" is even worse. Elections take place over a period of a few days, limiting the time those who seek to steal an election have to pressure voters.
But union cards are collected over a period of weeks, months, even years. If you say no today, union representatives will be back tomorrow, and the day after. They can get friends and family to pressure you. They can call you on the phone and show up at your door. They can use other union members to lobby you. Pro-union co-workers could pester you or worse to get you to sign.
And if you ever give in, and sign the card just to end the harassment, the cards are held by the union. There may be procedures for revoking the card, but you have to go through the same people who spent months pestering you to sign the cards.
If you've ever been pressured to switch phone companies, and then tried to revoke that decision, you have a small taste of what this new process could be like. The phone company does it for a few bucks a month. The union stands to make a lot more, so they have a much greater incentive to make your life miserable.
Meanwhile, the law already prohibits excessive coercion in NLRB elections. Complaints are in fact rare, and actual violations are rarer still. For example, in 2005, only 137 out of 2115 elections had any complaints, and only 10 objections were found to have merit.
We could strengthen the law to add more protections for workers. But don't take away the right to free, fair, and secret ballot elections. Once a union is approved, it's virtually impossible to go back. A secret ballot election is the only way to ensure that irrevocable choice is what workers really want.