January 29, 2009 in Opinion

Our View: Employee Fair Choice Act removes protections

 

Now that national political power is concentrated in Democratic hands, the table is set for organized labor to reverse years of declining ranks in the American workplace.

The centerpiece of the banquet is a piece of legislation mislabeled the Employee Fair Choice Act, and its backers are taking encouragement from the alignment of friendly faces in the White House and Congress. But workers stand to lose more than they gain if the measure becomes law.

The act would be only the third major amendment of the National Labor Relations Act, which was enacted more than 73 years ago. And it would remove the protection employees now have from intimidation from either management or labor when deciding if they want to be represented by a union.

Translating that impact as “fair choice” is a distortion. And if such a proposal had surfaced decades ago when unions enjoyed substantial influence, organized labor probably would have resisted a plan to let employers know how each worker voted. But it has come about instead at a time when union membership is down to about 7.4 percent of the private-sector work force, approximately half of what it was in the 1980s.

Unions have been a force for good in this country. They gave workers a way to pit their collective value to the economy against those who own the means of production. That was a path to fairness and a better standard of living for the working class.

Both sides of the bargaining table have abused the process over the years, but collective bargaining is here to stay, and both businesses and unions normally conduct their advocacy vigorously but honorably.

But both sides are capable of workplace intimidation, so employees need a system that gives them the privacy to decide by secret ballot whether they want to support a union. Neither the employer nor the union organizer should be able to know which way any individual voted – which is pretty much the way it works under current law.

The Employee Fair Choice Act, strongly promoted by labor organizations, would take that away. Instead of a secret election, the decision of choosing a union to represent employees in the workplace, would be accomplished by a so-called card-check process. In short, once 51 percent of the workers had signed a card in favor of a union, that union would become the recognized bargaining agent.

But everyone would know who signed and who didn’t.

As the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a 1983 case, “Workers sometimes sign union authorization cards not because they intend to vote for the union in the election but to avoid offending the person who asks them to sign, often a fellow worker, or simply to get the person off their back … .”

Whether that pressure comes from employers or from union organizers, it robs the worker of the ability to make his or her own choice, uninfluenced by fears of retaliation. A secret ballot protects everyone’s interests, and Congress should not take it away.


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