What difference does a secret ballot make?

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Persuasive unions wouldn't need card-check

Small business creates most of this country's jobs and is the heart and soul of Alabama's economy, employing about half the state's workforce. But this powerful economic engine could quit running if the labor unions succeed in getting Congress to pass a law allowing them to bypass secret ballots in favor of something called card check.

Secret ballots let people vote their conscience without fear of intimidation. Card check would take that freedom away.

With card check, the unions would simply go about "persuading" employees to sign cards agreeing to organize. They could corner people in the parking lot at work or visit them at home. Once a majority of employees sign cards, the workplace is unionized.

What's the difference between secret ballots and card check? Imagine going to the polls on Election Day and having the candidates, their supporters and maybe your co-workers follow you to the voting station and pester you about voting one way or the other.

That's what card check would be like.

It's encouraging that a majority of Americans think card check is a really bad idea.

Last year, when the issue was last before Congress, a survey by the polling firm McLaughlin and Associates found that almost four in five voters nationwide opposed card-check legislation that would have the government to dictate wages and benefits if employers couldn't come to terms with the unions on their own.

But despite the overwhelming public opposition, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" by a vote of 241-185. In the Senate, supporters failed to get the 60 votes needed to end debate and allow a vote on the bill. Still, the vote was 51 for ending debate and 48 against.

I am especially concerned about what all this means to small, family-owned businesses.

People seem to think that anyone who owns a business is rich, but there's a big difference between an auto plant and a repair shop.

The truth is small business owners work for a living. They do the books, but they also sweep up and take out the trash. They're struggling with everything from higher fuel costs to finding -- and keeping -- affordable health insurance. Small business owners take pride in the work they do and in treating their employees fairly. They're not making piles of money, but they believe in taking care of the people who work for them.

If the labor unions and some members of Congress have their way, these small businesses -- and the people who work for them -- would have unions shoved down their throats.

And if the unions and federal bureaucrats get to decide how much a small business pays its employees and what benefits it gives them, small business owners are going to have to make some tough decisions.

They're going to have to decide whether they can afford to grow. They're going to have to decide whether they can afford to add jobs. They're going to have to decide whether they can even afford to stay in business.

I'm not defending greedy business owners who reap big profits on the backs of workers, but we must defend small, family-owned businesses from organized labor.

Secret ballots are a sacred part of the democratic process. It's how we elect the president and Congress, the governor and the Alabama Legislature. Let's not throw it away simply to save the unions.

- Rosemary Elebash of Montgomery is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.


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