Monday, October 27, 2008


As Americans are focused on the economy, an economic issue of note that has not gotten enough attention is how dramatically the rights of employees in the workplace may change depending upon the presidential and Senate races this year. Support for the woefully misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is a key issue of difference in the elections.

EFCA is an extreme measure that would strip employees of their right to secret ballot in union elections and is so radical that even liberal icon George McGovern has called it “a disturbing and undemocratic overreach.” In a recent ad, Mr. McGovern lamented that “today´s union leaders are turning their backs on democratic workplace elections.” Surprisingly, this issue puts Barack Obama and Senate Democratic candidates to the left of Mr. McGovern.

Under this bill, Big Labor bosses estimate that their winning percentages on union votes would accelerate to 75 percent to 80 percent instead of the current 55 percent. With union dues ranging from $300 to $600 a year or more, passage of this measure would bring them far more than the $400 million they are investing in elections this year. It’s easy to see why organized labor is willing to make this investment, since union membership has decreased to only 12 percent of the American workforce and is only 7 percent in the private sector.

But what will this mean in the workplace and what will it mean to the economy? First of all, EFCA would make it easier for Big Labor to impose hefty union dues on an already strapped workforce, and would feather the nests of big union bosses on the backs of hardworking Americans. Union organizers could solicit signatures on cards from workers, and when they get a bare majority, the employer would have to recognize the union. Instead of a private election overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply be able to provide a mere majority of cards - the debate would be over, no elections would be held and the secret-ballot process would be eliminated. If workers refused to sign a card, they could be repeatedly asked to change their minds by union organizers at any time or any place.

Regardless of one’s feelings about unions, the secret ballot should be sacred. This bill ends that principle. And the compulsory arbitration process in the bill would put government bureaucrats in charge of negotiating terms of employment for an automatic two years if an agreement were not reached after 120 days. This would be the most radical change in labor law since the 1930s.

The law could essentially nationalize the Michigan model of the economy with Big Labor in charge. Union-saturated states like Michigan have the highest unemployment rates in the country. Michigan, at 8.9 percent, is over 40 percent above the national average.

European countries that are highly unionized have experienced double-digit inflation for years. That is why European countries like Germany and France are moving away from that model and moving toward the U.S. model. Why would we turn toward a failed model that Europe has, through experience, now rejected?

Mr. Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of this bill, having voted for it in 2007 and promised Big Labor bosses that he would sign this measure into law. It could very well be one of the first measures taken up by the next Congress as payback to the labor bosses. Mr. McCain voted against the bill and has vowed to veto it. Even though the right to protect the secret vote should not be a partisan issue, all Democratic Senate candidates support this top priority of unions, while Republican Senate candidates are opposed.

As is too often the case with Congress, the best explanation for the support for this bill is to “follow the money.” Big Labor bosses are at the top for special-interest funding of the presidential and competitive Senate races this year and this is their No. 1 legislative priority. The $400 million-plus they are investing in this election is designed to get a Senate that will pass the bill and a president who will sign it. (They already have enough House votes.) But the secret ballot should not be for sale at any price.

This bill is about whether or not employees will maintain the fundamental American and democratic right to a secret ballot. That right allows workers to have a say in how their workplace will meet the challenges of the current economy. In these tumultuous economic times, workers need to have their voices heard, not hijacked by Big Labor special interests.

When we vote on Nov. 4 for president and other federal offices, we will do so with a secret ballot. American workers deserve no less.

Barbara Comstock is a founding partner in Corallo Comstock Inc. and is working with the Workforce Fairness Institute.

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