Secretary Elaine Chao


Secret Ballot Under Fire for American Worker

Voter privacy is a fundamental human right. Americans know this in their heart and soul. We take it for granted. The standard television image on election days is of voters—from presidential candidates to regular citizens—stepping inside a voter booth and closing the curtain so they can vote privately. Voter privacy is as American as the Stars and Stripes.

Incredibly, legislation is advancing in Congress that would obliterate voter privacy in American workplaces because that basic human right has been construed by some in Washington to collide with their ambition of expanded unionism.

The legislation would institute a “card-check” system, stripping workers of their longstanding right to vote privately in union elections, turning the clock back 60 years to a failed process that was rife with widespread intimidation of workers. Currently, if 30 percent of a workplace petitions for union representation, then the National Labor Relations Board supervises an election and the determination is made by the majority of workplace voters, having cast their votes privately.

This democratic process has worked well for American workers. But there are Washington power-brokers who feel their interests would be better served by ending the workers’ right to voter privacy. Unionization has shrunk in the past 50 years, from a high of 35 percent of the private sector workforce in the 1950s to less than 8 percent today. Card-check proponents believe that supplanting voter privacy with signature cards would reverse unions’ downward trend.

With this undercutting of voter privacy, American workers would have no protection from efforts to get them to sign the union cards. One does not need a fertile imagination to anticipate the pressure and coercion that could occur when American workers no longer had the protection of private voting in unionization elections. Yet, more than 200 members of the House of Representatives have co-sponsored the card-check bill to strip workers of the right to privacy in choosing whether to be unionized.

Union leaders need to look at ways of building up their organizations that don’t tear down the fundamental democratic right of American workers to cast their votes on the subject, in private.