Secret-ballot issue shows who's anti-worker

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"
More EFCA stories: here

Union bigs' job-killing litmus test drags down Dems

The Democratic Party and its presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, like to pose as the friends of workers and their unions. In fact, they are the friends of the labor bosses, but are enemies of the workers and their unions. They blindly support the teachers' unions and their policies, which have assured that public education so often fails. This means that instead of being a real friend of the teachers and their unions, the Democratic Party assures pressure for school choice and pressure for less support of a failing public education system.

The teachers' unions and the Democratic Party are only assuring the continuous shrinkage of the public education system and jobs for teachers in that system. They claim to be friends of workers and their unions by supporting restrictions on trade, but history demonstrates that protectionism only means less trade, fewer jobs and a weaker economy. Right now it is our international trade that is most important in keeping our economy afloat.

And here's another example relating to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This legislation now being considered by Congress is one of the top priorities of the bosses of organized labor. But it is anti-democratic (with a small "d") in the most fundamental sense, as it would deprive workers of a secret ballot in deciding whether or not to form a union. That means also that it is deceptively named. There's no "free choice" in the act, but only the end of the secret ballot in union elections. This is one of the most common forms of fraud, courtesy of the U.S. Congress - giving a bill a noble sounding name, when it is actually designed for totally different and often totally undesirable ends. The bill should be named the Abolish the Secret Ballot in Union Elections Act.

To understand why the EFCA is anti-democratic and why it undermines a fundamental principle of our democracy, the secret ballot, you have to understand some background information on how unions come to be organized under the basic law governing unions - the National Labor Relations Act. If a union wants to organize a company, it has to get its employees to sign what are called union authorization cards. Once the union gets 30 percent or more of employees to sign these union authorization cards, then the union asks the employer for voluntary recognition of the union. Most employers refuse to do so on the basis of authorization cards only. Between 1998 and 2003, only 13 percent of employers recognized the union on the basis of union authorization cards.

Employers usually think that union authorization cards do not represent the real preferences of employees. The Heritage Foundation points out in a "Backgrounder" (Aug. 27, 2008) why union authorization cards are rarely taken at face value: "Public card signing exposes workers to pressure, harassment, and threats from the union. Even union organizing guidebooks state that a worker's signature on a union card does not mean that worker supports the union."

When the employer doesn't think that the union authorization cards truly reflect employee sentiment, the union organizers then submit the cards to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and requests an election. An election is called usually within six to seven weeks, at which time workers vote, using a secret ballot in the privacy of a voting booth.

If a majority of workers vote for the union, then by law the company must begin bargaining with the union. If a majority vote against the union, it must then cease organizing activity. The unions win over 60 percent of these elections.

This would all change if the EFCA becomes law. Just as the name of the law is deceptive, the law itself seems to be designed to be deceptive as well. It permits the union supporters to argue that the secret ballot is preserved, when in fact, for all practical purposes, the secret ballot is abolished.

Here's how that legislative deception is structured. The proposed law, the EFCA, requires the union to be recognized if a majority of workers sign authorization cards. This permits all kinds of pressure, harassment and threats, as the cards are entirely public, with the union knowing who signs and who won't sign. So that's the way the new law will operate in practice, with no secret ballot to register the true preferences of workers.

To create the false impression of the preservation of a secret ballot, the law permits the union to call for an election if it collects a minimum of 30 percent of workers' authorization cards. In that case, there would be a vote with the protection of a secret ballot. But the logic of the law clearly dictates that the election would never be called. The union would go for 50 percent authorization cards, which would eliminate the need for an election and a secret ballot. If they could not get that 50 percent, in a public process, there would be no sense in an election, as in that unusual case, the workers would have already expressed a clear preference for no union. There is no reason to think that preference would change if a secret ballot were involved.

Now this brings us to who really supports the EFCA and who benefits from it - the union bosses or the workers? Polls show that Americans strongly oppose the abolition of the secret ballot for elections. That secret ballot is a fundamental principle of democracy, one of our most cherished institutions. It is cherished by the public including workers, but apparently not by union bosses and the Democratic Party and Mr. Obama. They support this abolition of the secret ballot.

The unions' own organizational procedures clearly suggest the law was written to create the illusion but not the reality of the secret ballot. In fact, unions virtually never call for elections based on a 30 percent sign-up. According to the Heritage Foundation, organizers are now instructed to get 60 to 70 percent or more of the signatures of workers before going to the polls. Unions openly state that they want a supermajority before considering an election. Here are the details of the policies of three unions:

* International Brotherhood of Teamsters: "The general policy of the Airline Division is to file for a representation election only after receiving a 65 percent card return from eligible voters in a group."

* New England Nurses Association: "Have 70-75 percent of members sign cards; if unable to reach this goal, review plan."

* Service Employees International Union (SEIU): "...[T]he rule of thumb in the SEIU is that it's unwise to file for an election when fewer than 70 percent of the workforce has signed interest cards."

The Heritage Foundation reports that internal union studies find the odds of winning are not even until 75 percent of employees sign cards: "Unions will not go to the polls without majority support because they know they are unlikely to win and, if they lose, federal law bars them from calling for anther election for a year."

So when all the legislative deception of the name of the proposal and the structure of the proposal are seen through, the union-backed proposed law comes down to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party striking a blow at a fundamental principle of American democracy - the secret ballot. Under the EFCA, there would be no elections. Union leaders even admit they would not be calling for elections under the new law, according to the Heritage Foundation: "United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen admits that 'We can't win that way anymore.' UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor says that he sees 'no reason to subject the workers to an election.' SEIU Local 32BJ President Mike Fishman flatly states, 'We don't do elections.'"

If you read those comment, they suggest unions can't win elections fair and square. So they go to the Democratic Party and politicians like Mr. Obama to abolish the secret ballot, and create a system where workers can be bulldozed and improperly pressured into joining a union. The Heritage Foundation has documented fraud in getting union approval even under existing law.

This is how unions now mislead workers. They tell the workers to sign authorization cards and those cards will be used only to bring about an election. Then they go to the employer and on the basis of a 30 percent sign-up, try to pressure the employer to recognize the union. You'll recall that the employer can voluntarily (but need not) recognize a union based on cards alone. Heritage documents fraud in the organizing attempts of Kaiser Permanente, the MGM Grand and Trico Marine.

Just as the EFCA is deceptively named and deceptively structured, it is also being deceptively promoted. The EFCA propaganda claims the secret ballot is not being abolished. That is literally true, but what is not said is that the secret ballot would never be called into play as it is clear that unions would almost always be organized by getting a majority of workers to sign authorization cards.

If you want to know how radical and extremist the Democratic Party and its standard-bearer, Mr. Obama, have become, consider who is opposed to this bill - former senator and presidential candidate (1972) George McGovern. Even this old-line far left liberal objects to the bill as it abolishes the secret ballot. Mr. McGovern was roundly rejected by the American people in 1972 because he was considered too liberal. But the Democrats now and Mr. Obama are so radical and far left now that they make Mr. McGovern look like a conservative.

You can be sure of one thing. If the Democrats control the White House and Congress, the secret ballot will be abolished and unions will get all the other priorities on their wish list. You have to credit the Democratic Party and Mr. Obama for one thing. The nature of their programs, including the EFCA, is such that it would take them little time to destroy our economy, our health care delivery system, and our national security. Mr. Obama comes with the thinnest resume, the most anti-American and extremist associates, and the most radical agenda of any major political party nominee in history.

- Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School.


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