Labor's fascistic assault on the secret ballot

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UNITE: 'There's no need to subject the workers to an election.'

Union issues often fall predictably along party lines. However, when you find an ultra=liberal like former Democrat presidential candidate George McGovern agreeing with Republican presidential candidate John McCain, you know you have an unusual issue before Congress and the American people.

Such is the case with the erroneously named “Employee Free Choice Act” which would strip the right to a secret ballot from every American worker involved in a union election and eliminate choice for workers. The unusual alliance of left and right opposing this undemocratic power grab of a bill derives from a shared support for a cornerstone of our democracy — the right to a secret ballot and the right to keep private how one chooses to vote. Nothing less than saving the right to vote is at issue. In a recent speech, Sen. McCain recently pointed out that Sen. Obama, who voted for the bill “wants to take away the fundamental right of workers to have a secret ballot when voting to be part of a union.” For factchecking purposes one could consult George McGovern to confirm McCain’s statement.

In August in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, McGovern, a liberal icon, raised alarm about the Employee Free Choice Act [EFCA] which passed the House of Representatives last year with far too little attention paid to the threat to workers this bill would impose. McGovern wrote that the measure “runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.... Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.”

The key offending provision of the bill provides that instead of a private election with a secret ballot that is overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, union organizers would only be required to obtain the signatures of 50 percent plus one of the employees in a workplace to certify a union. If union organizers were able to — by whatever means they can think of — collect enough signatures, the secret ballot would be unnecessary and eliminated from the process. This system is known as “card check” — a very un-American proposal.

As McGovern warned with this system: “there are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked or intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.” In hearings in the House of Representatives in 2002, Bruce Esgar, an employee of MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas described such a case when he testified that union organizers threatened that workers who did not sign union cards would lose their jobs when the union was recognized. In testimony in 2007, Ricardo Torres, a long-time organizer for the United Steelworkers felt compelled to quit his job, according to his testimony, after “a senior Steelworkers union official asked me to threaten migrant workers by telling them they would be reported to federal immigration officials if they refused to sign check-off cards.” Jen Jason, a former organizer for UNITE-HERE also testified in 2007 to the fact that they “rarely showed workers what an actual union contract looked like because we knew that it wouldn’t necessarily reflect what a worker would want to see. We were trained to avoid topics such as dues increases, strike histories, etc. and to constantly move the worker back to what the organizer identified as his or her “issues” during the first part of the housecall. This technique was commonly referred to as “re-agitation” during organizer training sessions.”

President Bush’s former economic-policy adviser, Larry Lindsey also protested the legislation earlier this year in the Washington Post, “....a card-check system would offer even more room for intimidation of workers. A union card can be signed by workers at any time during an organizing campaign, which can take many months. Union organizers can pursue workers in their homes, at churches and civic clubs, and at watering holes after hours. Workers’ family members can also be intimidated during this process. So much for a “free choice” for employees. The bill assaults workers’ rights in other ways, too. For example, it would make it a crime for management to raise pay or improve working conditions while a plant is being organized. So the only way to get a raise would be to get the campaign over with and bring the union in. Such an arrangement might strike some as government-mandated intimidation.” Imagine a situation where getting a raise is a violation of workers’ rights!

House Republicans opposing this un-American legislation the “Employee Free Choice Act” align with the same concerns expressed by McGovern, Lindsey, and the former union organizers. Last year, in their minority report, opposing the bill to eliminate the secret ballot they wrote: “Very few points of labor law are black and white. This is one of those few. Courts, agencies, experts, lawmakers, and most important, American workers, recognize that the secret ballot election process is the only way to ensure that workers are given true ‘choice’ in determining whether to form and join a union.”

Quite simply, the card-check process invites coercion and abuse of the fundamental rights of workers and employers. The card-check process exposes and reveals the votes of workers to the employer, the union organizers and to fellow co-workers. The choice to disclose this information should reside with the individual and be a matter of choice for them individually. Private ballot elections have historically been the way for us to strike the fair balance between the interests of workers and employers. Those who would change this historic American precedent have an agenda other than respecting the interests of workers and employers alike. It’s simply un-American.

— John Motley is the senior vice president for government and public affairs at the Food Marketing Institute.


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