- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2011

Labor unions can’t persuade Congress to destroy workplace voting rights, but their Obama-appointed lackeys at the National Labor Relations Board do their dirty work anyway. Twice in the past six weeks, the NLRB has sided with union bosses over ordinary workers, smothering the ideal of secret elections.

On Friday, the NLRB threatened to sue four states whose voters recently passed referendums guaranteeing the right to secret-ballot elections for union organizing. The NLRB says the new laws in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah would deny unions a second method of organizing allowed by federal law, namely by showing “majority support by signed authorization cards or other means.” In practice, these “other means” could well include sending teams of bullies to individual workers to “persuade” them to sign cards requesting representation by a particular union.

The NLRB argues that the 1935 National Labor Relations Act - which allows an employer to “voluntarily recognize” unions formed by that method - “pre-empts” state laws saying otherwise. Legal battles over federal pre-emption have snarled federal courts in recent years, but the Obama administration has a curious record on the subject. When a federal law would pre-empt plaintiffs lawyers from big-money suits, the administration sides with the lawyers against federal power; when federal law would pre-empt a state’s voters from democratically choosing labor or immigration laws, the administration sides with federal power, against the voters. Either way, the White House sides with its powerful allies, no matter what voters desire.

The earlier NLRB decision was even more objectionable. On Dec. 6, the board sided against workers in favor of a form of collusion between a corporation and a union the workers had not chosen. Before workers at the Dana Corp. formally selected the United Auto Workers union, the UAW and Dana’s executives signed a letter of agreement allowing the UAW to unionize those workers without a secret-ballot election. If this is permitted, any unscrupulous union bosses, without approval from workers, could approach corporate leaders and agree to cheaper labor terms than another union might demand. Having secured a company’s cooperation, union bosses then could send its goons around collecting “card check” approvals from workers while claiming the contract is basically a done deal.

“This sets up what can only be called ‘sweetheart unions,’ ” Peter List, proprietor of the authoritative LaborUnionReport blog and a former longtime union activist, told The Washington Times. An earlier post on his blog quoted former NLRB member John Raudabaugh calling the decision “paternalistic, patronizing and wrong.” Mr. Raudabaugh said the NLRB ruling “surely will be overturned on appeal.”

Congress can and should take this discretion away from the NLRB. For several years, new House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, has led dozens of members pushing the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would amend the 1935 law by guaranteeing secret ballot rights to workers nationwide. The act would override the two NLRB decisions and end backroom deals. Passing the act is the best, quickest way to ensure employees’ free choice.