5/27/08

Back to the card check

Anti-democratic Democrat opposes secret-ballot

Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor recently disagreed with the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce over what always has struck me as one terrible piece of proposed legislation. It seems that he, in contrast to the state and national chambers of commerce and others, supports pending “card check” legislation. The bill would allow organizers to form labor unions inside businesses by convincing a majority of employees to sign a form rather than voting by traditional secret ballot.

The measure caters to labor unions even though it is unnecessary and makes no sense except as a convoluted way to coerce workers into forming a union. The card-check tactic would readily identify reluctant employees who might yet require additional persuasion to sign up.

Pryor, who supported the legislation last year, even went so far to say in the news account I read that the Arkansas chamber probably echoed exaggerated claims expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Pryor’s office tells me that the Democratic senator supports chambers of commerce and never accused the state chamber itself of exaggerating the card-check issue.

Pryor also was quoted as saying that the national chamber is working hard to get state chambers more involved in the issue and that he sees the card-check legislation as a first step toward modernizing American labor law.

“I think [the state chamber’s concerns are] probably exaggerated,” Pryor told Aaron Sadler of The Morning News. “And I think they get a lot of this from the national organization. I think the people in Arkansas are very common-sense.They’re very hard-working. They expect when they work in a place to be treated fairly. Arkansas is a very good place to have a business.”

I’ll gladly agree with Pryor on those points. We Arkansans do have common sense and a strong work ethic, and expect fair treatment. Heck, we have to work hard to try and cover all the sales, gasoline, personal property, property, income and FICA taxes, plus fees, monthly utilitybills and surcharges, a.k.a. hidden taxes.

Arkansas does have a relatively good business climate in some areas, especially here in the northwest region. But the business climate everywhere is changing dramatically and rapidly with the ongoing fuel and food price hikes. I’m equally certain that the state chamber identifies with the U.S. chamber. But so what?

None of this alters the fact that the historic voting tradition whereby unions are organized by secret ballot has served our nation and its workers just fine. The secret ballot preserves the vital need to keep one’s vote private rather than allowing union organizers to know who has yet to board their dinghy. Possessing that kind of knowledge, we of common sense and fair play have seen through history, has led to some ugly and unfair consequences.

I’m not necessarily saying that those who decline to sign an organizing card would be intimidated or strong-armed. But this bill needlessly opens that door and serves only the interests of those seeking toestablish unions while making big political contributions and endorsements.

The rich irony here is that the process for disenfranchising a union once it’s formed is through the secret ballot. Is this more modern labor law? If so, then why don’t all Americans get thoroughly modernized and abandon the secret ballot for this year’s general election?

In his recent news story, Sadler writes that the card-check issue ranks with health care and education among the state chamber’s priorities. The bill did pass the U.S. House along party lines in March 2007, but it failed to pass in the Senate. It is likely to return to Congress for Round 2 within two years.

Kenny Hall, senior vice president for governmental affairs at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, said in Sadler’s story that the fear is that even smaller Arkansas businesses and the economy will suffer if they wind up unionized as a result of this legislation.

I must assume that Hall also is modern, hard-working and not prone to exaggeration, and has sufficient common sense to know when a pending bill is beneficial or a potential land mine for businesses.

Although I may lack common sense and occasionally exaggerate for effect, I continue to see this as an outstanding bill only for unions and a piece of extremely bad, even un-American, legislation for workers who do not want to join a union but may feel pressured into doing so simply because their ballot was not secret.

“I continue to hear from constituents on both sides, and I want to give supporters and opponents of the legislation an opportunity to weigh in as I consider the best approach to the issue,” Arkansas’ other Democratic U.S. senator, BlancheLincoln, was quoted saying in a statement. At least Lincoln appears to be weighing the potentially dire consequences of this legislation. We shall see.

Third District Congressman John Boozman, a Republican, flatly opposes thebill, calling it unnecessary and unfair.

In closing, for transparency’s sake I should tell readers that my wife Laurie works as a hourly, part-time events coordinator for Associated Builders and Contractors in Northwest Arkansas. That group, along with others, opposes the card-check legislation. I can assure you that her limited job without benefits has no bearing on my feelings on the issue. However, she does work hard and have loads of common sense, and also occasionally exaggerates.

- Mike Masterson

(arkansasonline.com)

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