8/24/08

Union organizers offend small business expert

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Why change secret-ballot elections?

Imagine walking into your voting booth this November. Now, imagine the curtain is open, and people are watching you vote. Now, visualize these spectators telling you how to vote.

Does this offend you? If it does, you're probably against the attempt by organized labor to alter the workplace radically by seeking union recognition outside the long-protected secret-ballot election.

In 2007, the House of Representatives passed HR 800, the misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act." Many in the small-business community call it the "Employee No Choice Act" because it strips away the right to a private ballot and could result in employees being forced to accept a government-negotiated wage and benefit contract.

Labor bosses want to replace the right of employees to vote privately in union elections and replace it with a system known as "card check." Under this new model, many union drives would be started easily from outside the business, not by the employees themselves.

Rather than hold an election, union representatives would need only to coerce a majority of employees to sign authorization cards. Once a union collects enough signed cards, the organizing drive would be over and the business would become unionized. All of this would occur either without the knowledge or involvement of the business owner.

Stacking the deck

Under current law, business owners can agree to a card-check organizing drive instead of a secret-ballot election, but this legislation removes that choice. Unions want to do away with the secret ballot because it stacks the deck in their favor.

You might be surprised to know unions won 54 percent of the 1,559 elections conducted in fiscal year 2007. Using card checks, however, unions are successful more than 90 percent of the time.

Another troubling aspect of this plan is a provision that says if a card-check organizing drive is successful, an employer has only 120 days to accept the union's contract offer. If the two sides don't agree during this time, a federal bureaucrat would come in and decide the wage and benefit terms for the work force.

Small businesses would be especially vulnerable to card check. In fiscal year 2005, 70 percent of elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board involved bargaining units of 50 employees or fewer.

Even very small businesses would be vulnerable: More than 20 percent of NLRB-supervised elections involved bargaining units of 10 employees or fewer.

I recently asked one small-business owner with 24 employees what he would do if a union obtained the necessary 12 card-check signatures. "Shut down shortly thereafter," he said.

Workers' rights and Tennessee's status as one of 22 right-to-work states would be threatened under card check. Few believe Volkswagen, Nissan and Saturn would have chosen Tennessee if we were a forced-union state. It's important to communicate this message.

I encourage concerned readers to sign the petition at www.myprivateballot.com and contact your senators and congressman. Tell them to protect the secret ballot and oppose this effort to change the workplace radically.

- Jim Brown is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, Tennessee's leading small-business association.

(tennessean.com)

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