KLINE/PRICE: The right to say ‘no’

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COMMENTARY:

There are sacred principles that epitomize American democracy. Freedom of speech. Due process. The right to vote by secret ballot. These fundamental rights have always been defended and protected regardless of political persuasion because these principles that define our democracy transcend America’s partisan differences. Or do they?

Democrats in Congress seem to believe the right to a private vote only deserves protection if the outcomes of secret ballot elections do not interfere with their political agenda, particularly their goal of growing the influence and reach of labor unions in the American workplace.

For decades, the power of organized labor has been waning. Membership is at historic lows as American workers have increasingly used the secret ballot to vote against unionization. Yet these personal decisions by American workers have not sat well with Big Labor and their political allies in Congress. So it would appear desperate times call for desperate measures.

Congressional Democrats and organized labor groups are in the midst of a coordinated assault on the secret ballot, seeking to advance legislation that would eliminate this most basic right for workers faced with the decision of whether to unionize their workplace. Their fraudulently misnamed Employee Free Choice Act would replace federally supervised secret ballot organizing elections with a process known as a “card check.”

Today, most union organizing elections are conducted by secret ballot. Yet Democrats and their special interest allies are working to make them the exception rather than the rule - allowing coercion and intimidation to become the law of the land.

Under the card check system, union organizers are required only to get the signature of a simple majority of workers to unionize a workplace. The secret ballot would be all but completely eliminated under the scheme. Forcing employees to make their unionization choice known publicly would inevitably open the door to coercion, intimidation and bullying.

During congressional testimony on the issue, one former union organizer described aggressive, often misleading, tactics employed in such a process. Workers were rarely shown an actual union contract, denied information about strikes and other controversial union practices, and pressured to sign the cards quickly without the opportunity to deliberate. If workers later changed their minds, organizers often refused to return the card or allow the worker to withdraw support.

If enacted, it would not be difficult to imagine committed union organizers urgently trying to influence workers on the job, during breaks, or even at home, all to get another signature.

Clearly contradictory to the processes that define American democracy, such a proposal is wildly unpopular with the general public. A recent McLaughlin and Associates poll found only 15 percent of Americans would support such a bill. Yet organized labor has made significant investments in seeing the legislation enacted, and congressional Democrats appear ready to swiftly and quietly deliver.

We cannot allow this happen. We have a responsibility to protect individual liberty and the privacy Americans have known for centuries. Enter the Secret Ballot Protection Act.

Along with more than 100 fellow Republicans, we recently introduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act to preserve forever the fundamental right of workers to keep private their decision about joining a union. In the spirit of American democracy, the bill would ensure a private up or down secret ballot vote for every workplace considering unionization. The legitimacy of the vote would be unimpeachable, and the workers would be protected from any consequences that could result from a public vote.

More than 100 million American workers stand to be affected by the Democrats’ plan to eliminate the secret ballot if it becomes law. We seek to provide these and all American workers with the peace of mind that comes from knowing such an important and personal decision will be made without someone looking over their shoulder.

This debate reminds us that American ideals require constant defense and vigilance. Even as cherished a principle as the secret ballot can come under fire from special interests.

If unions and employers are sincere in their missions of protecting and serving workers, the real question should be how all sides can work together to defend workers’ interests - and protect the rights of millions of Americans whose privacy and freedom are at stake. The Secret Ballot Protection Act is the first step in the right direction.

John Kline, Minnesota Republican, and Tom Price, Georgia Republican, are both members of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and Labor.

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