Secretary Elaine Chao

 
 
 

Defining Democracy Down

It goes without saying in American households and has been ratified by the civilized world in human rights declarations, that privacy in the casting of an election ballot is a fundamental freedom.  Long emblematic of America’s democracy, the right to privacy in voting was adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The European Commission on Human Rights included voter privacy in its 1952 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Contrary to that spirit of human rights and American sensibility, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would radically alter the manner in which workers elect whether to unionize.  Under the House-passed bill, H.R. 800, the private sanctity of the voting booth would be supplanted by signature drives in which union activists knock on workers’ doors at home, during dinnertime, weekends – wherever and whenever they want.  The Senate will soon vote on whether to follow the House’s lead.

It is not hard under current law to unionize a workplace if, in fact, most of the workers want to join a union.  Presently, if just 30 percent of a workplace expresses interest in union representation, then the National Labor Relations Board supervises an election and the determination is made by the majority of workers, having cast their votes privately.  H.R. 800’s signature card system (a.k.a. “card check”) repeals worker protections enacted 60 years ago to shield workers from coercion by unions and from employers.  Under H.R. 800, 49.9 percent of a workplace could adamantly oppose being unionized yet they would be denied a chance to even vote on the matter if 50 percent, plus one colleague, signed pro-union cards.

It is incredible that interest groups who purport to advocate on behalf of workers are striving to end workers’ rights to privacy in union elections.  Coincidentally, or not, unionization has shrunk from 20 percent of the workforce in 1983, to 12 percent today.

Without the protection of private balloting, American workers would have no protection from coercion in unionization elections.  One does not need to be a scholar on card check to anticipate the pressure and coercion that could emanate from all sides when American workers no longer had the protection of private voting in unionization elections.  Indeed, a former union organizer testified at a congressional hearing that she had “personally heard from workers that they signed the union card simply to get the organizer to leave their home and not harass them further.”

This issue has been around for a long time.  In 1967, a federal circuit court observed:  “It would be difficult to imagine a more unreliable method of ascertaining the real wishes of employees than a ‘card check,’ unless it were an employer’s request for an open show of hands.  The one is no more reliable than the other…”

To appreciate the intensity of certain advocates, one needs to know that H.R. 800 is not just about unionizing workplaces.  It is also, as the bill states:  “for other purposes.”  The most pernicious “other purpose” is a provision in H.R. 800 that also takes the freedom out of free collective bargaining.  Under H.R. 800, if a labor contract was not agreed to within the congressionally-dictated timetable, federal officials could designate an “arbitration board” to write a labor contract that employers and workers would be forced to abide by for two years.  Workers would not have any right to ratify, or not ratify, the contract. 

This travesty is brazenly entitled the “Employee Free Choice Act.”  But where is the “free choice” in depriving workers of privacy in voting whether to unionize?  Where is the “free choice” in denying workers the right to vote, at all, on federally-dictated labor contracts? 

The scope of this assault on workers’ rights and economic freedom, is breathtaking.