Friday, January 30, 2009

President Obama made a great deal of promises to labor groups during his campaign for the White House, but the effort to get Congress to pass economic recovery legislation has put those promises on the back burner. And that’s a good thing when it comes to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

There are two principal methods employees can use to form a union and gain the right to collectively bargain with employers. Company workers who get 30 to 50 percent of their colleagues to sign petition cards requesting representation can send the cards to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and have it oversee a secret ballot election. Or, if more than 50 percent of an employer’s workers sign up for representation, a union is deemed legitimate through “card check” procedures without Labor Relations getting involved at all, but only if the employer does not request a secret-ballot election.

The EFCA would eliminate an employer’s ability to request a secret-ballot election.

“I think that this method (no secret ballot) would become the only method unions would use,” said former Rep. Ernest Istook in a meeting with The Washington Times. It’s hard to understand why labor would want to do that, considering the nation’s long tradition of secret-ballot elections and past history of union organization. Most unions are created through the secret-ballot process, not because the employer objected to the card-check process, but because workers prefer the secret ballot. Given that, it’s hard to figure out what the EFCA will actually do to help unions grow their membership from the 7 percent national representation they have now. To help, the Democrat-crafted legislation, which the House passed in March 2007, effects any business with 10 or more employees. A Senate filibuster killed the bill for the 110th Congress, but (with apologies to “Poltergeist II”), “they’re baaaaack.” The reintroduced bill effectively means that even the smallest businesses could face the costs associated with union strikes and binding arbitration. And it goes a step further, giving the employer only 120 days to respond to his employees’ requests for collective bargaining or face a forced arbitration to be overseen by a federal judge.

This bill couldn’t be more frightening to business. Mr. Istook and groups like Save Our Secret Ballot argue that without the secret ballot Americans would lose freedom from intimidation, freedom of choice and freedom of conscience. The organization also points out the hypocrisy of Democrats seeking to pass EFCA when they chastised the Mexican government’s labor laws in a letter by saying, “We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required, by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.” Save Our Secret Ballot has begun a campaign at the state level - already organized in 10 states - to fight EFCA by getting language on state referenda in 2010 to preserve secret ballot elections in union organizing, and we hope they will succeed.

As frightening as this is for businesses and for America’s tradition of secret ballots, it is mayors and governors who should be most afraid. Government workers constitute labor’s fastest-growing block of members, and in these tough economic times of government furloughs, layoffs, and blown budgets, EFCA is the last thing city and state leaders need.

Even liberal Democrat and ardent labor supporter George McGovern, the former presidential candidate, has staunchly opposed the imposition of collective bargaining relationships except through secret ballot election. Sen. McGovern called EFCA’s card-check provision “a disturbing and undemocratic overreach, not in the interest of either management or labor” and “counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement.” He noted that “instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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