Sununu: Secret ballots for them, but not you

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Congress must deny unions' anti-democratic powerplay

Families across New Hampshire celebrated Labor Day last week, and we should all take a moment to appreciate the strength and resilience that American workers bring to our economy every day. Equally important, we should keep the rights of those workers foremost in our minds.

Yet, just the week before, in Denver, the Democratic National Convention passed a platform that would deny those same workers the right to secret ballot elections for union representation. The convention delegates who voted on the platform were largely chosen by secret ballot; the members of Congress who attended were elected by secret ballot; and the presidential election itself will be determined by secret ballot in cities and towns across the country on Nov. 4.

It's hard to imagine the audacity required for these elected officials to deny that same fundamental opportunity to America's workforce.

Private ballot elections, or the right to vote in secret, have been a fundamental article of faith in free societies for so long that it's hard to imagine it ever being otherwise. Americans haven't thought of having it any other way for more than two centuries, and most of us are shocked to hear that there are still places in the world where the right to vote one's conscience is commonly denied.

Despite this history, on March 1, 2007, the House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines to strip workers of the right to a secret ballot in voting for or against a union. The Senate defeated the legislation, but only by the slimmest of margins. Now union bosses are calling in favors, demanding that this law be part of the liberal party platform.

The so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" is anything but. By reversing the decades-long practice of secret ballots at the workplace, its enactment would force workers to stand up and declare their vote in front of both union bosses and employers -- subjecting them to intimidation and coercion by both. Far from granting free choice, the legislation promises to deny it at the workplace and to potentially erode the foundations of free elections everywhere else.

It's no secret why big labor interests are pushing the bill. Over the last few decades, union membership in America has plunged from 34 percent of the workforce to 12 percent today. Union bosses are rightly worried about their political future, and they are asking the Democrats in Congress to do their dirty work.

Not long ago, both parties in Congress stood up to defend the secret ballot. In 2001, a group of Democrats in the House sent a strongly worded letter to government officials in Mexico urging them to reconsider a similar measure there: "We feel the secret ballot is absolutely necessary to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose," they wrote.

It's hard to disagree with that.

Indeed, the vast majority of Americans, including union members, do agree. Recent surveys show that 78 percent of union members think Congress should keep the law the way it is. Other surveys show that 89 percent of people believe that secret ballots better protect the individual rights of workers. Even the bill's authors realize that a secret-ballot vote is preferable: they may be calling for a publicly declared vote in forming a union, but, incredibly, their bill requires a secret ballot to disband one!

Casting a ballot free from intimidation is essential to our democracy.

For more than 200 years, the United States has enshrined in our election system that every American has the right to vote their conscience privately without coercion.

We should stand to protect the same right for the American worker. In Denver, a group of political elites did just the opposite.

- John Sununu, a Republican, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.


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