- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2008

OP-ED:

Imagine a binding union election where you had to cast your ballot in front of everyone you work with. The very concept is entirely un-American. Yet, for millions of American workers, it could soon become reality if the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act - which more accurately should be called the Secret Ballot Elimination Act - becomes law.

In a blatant attempt to pay back organized labor for political contributions and encourage it to continue funding Democratic campaigns, union-boss allies in Washington have promised to pass this dangerous legislation. They know that with a few Republican losses in the Senate and an Obama presidency it could become law.

This legislation seeks to “correct” a nonexistent problem. Workers are free now to vote their conscience and decide whether or not to join a labor union. This is the law of the land, and is enforced by the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board. Union bosses and their political puppets just can’t accept the fact that not all workers want to join labor unions.

The reality that organized labor won’t accept is that American workers aren’t being deprived the opportunity to join unions; most just don’t want to join. Today, workers are choosing to maintain a work environment that allows them to be rewarded for their individual achievement rather than rigidity and tenure. Workers are choosing to work directly with management to solve problems rather than relying on union intermediaries and their conflict-escalating tactics.

For union bosses, this decline in union membership is a problem. Only 13 percent of the overall American workforce is unionized, down from 23 percent in 1983. As those numbers fall, so do union dues. Desperate to turn this decline around, union leaders have pressured Congress to pass their burdensome proposal which will radically change the current laws that have been in place for more than 60 years. In much the same way, union bosses poured money and effort into the national immigration debate in 2006 in hope of increasing membership through amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Among the changes proposed is the replacement of the current program of National Labor Relations Board supervised secret-ballot elections with a process known as “card check.” In this process, employees would be pressured to openly sign undated cards by organizers and coworkers, almost certainly exposing them to more harassment and coercion. Rather than having a secret-ballot election at a fixed point in time, this process would give unions months to coerce people into supporting their cause. Card check would replace secret-ballot elections.

Union organizers and their supporters have twisted the truth about the bill, falsely claiming it would allow workers to choose whether to use a secret ballot or not. In reality, union members have no say in this or other matters. For example, it’s no secret that union organizers heavily favor the Democratic Party when making donations, regardless of who their members support. The five unions that have donated the most to campaigns this year have given a whopping $1.67 million - or 94 percent - to Democrats.

In addition, the Secret Ballot Elimination Act would rush negotiations to binding arbitration, where a federal arbitrator with little or no familiarity with the industry or business would determine wages, benefits and other contract terms unilaterally.

Union bosses and their supporters are blind to what is obvious to most. The decline of the power of organized labor over American workers over the past 50 years has coincided with the era of greatest economic expansion in America. American workers are choosing to stay nonunion, not because the process is broken, but because unions don’t offer them the flexibility, opportunity and upward mobility they desire. Changing the union election process so dramatically would endanger businesses and jobs.

The current auto-industry crisis provides a dramatic contrast between states where workers are forced to join unions and right-to-work states where workers can decide for themselves. In Michigan, where auto industry employees are forced to unionize, we see Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - the Big Three - struggling to keep their heads above water, while Toyota, Honda, Nissan and BMW plants stationed in right-to-work states continue to turn a steady profit.

A 2004 poll by Research 2000 shows that 80 percent of Americans agree that it’s wrong to force anyone to join or pay dues to a union to get or keep a job. A January 2007 poll by McLaughlin & Associates shows that nine out of 10 Americans agree “that every worker should continue to have the right to a federally-supervised, secret-ballot election when deciding whether to organize a union.”

To this end, I have sponsored the National Right to Work Act and the Secret Ballot Protection Act to guarantee a secret-ballot vote for all American workers and ensure that no worker has to join or pay dues to a union to work and provide for their family.

In the past, workers were trusted to cast a secret ballot in union elections. Today, union bosses are more concerned about their bank accounts than respecting the democratic rights of their workers.

Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, is chairman of the Republican Steering Committee.