Politics & Policy

Big Labor Makes Dems an Offer They Can’t Refuse

If private-ballot union votes are good for Mexicans, why not for Americans, Congressman Miller?

There’s a scene in The Godfather where Vito Corleone needs to enlist the services of Amerigo Bonasera, the undertaker for whom he did a favor on his daughter’s wedding day. Vito asks Bonasera, “Are you ready to now do a service for your don?”

Big Labor must have had a similar meeting with congressional Democrats after the 2006 midterm elections. To hear the Democrats tell it, the election was about the war in Iraq, middle class angst at home, and “corruption.” For their biggest funders and paid volunteer-providers, though, the election was about something very different. Big Labor has seen a precipitous decline in union membership, falling from 39 percent of the private-sector workforce in 1958 to just 7.4 percent today — that’s a decline of over 80 percent in just 50 years. In a few years, a majority of union members will be government bureaucrats. Every year, thousands of members active in the 1950s retire. If something is not done to stem the tide of membership losses, Big Labor will find itself sleeping with the fishes.

That’s why they have been pushing so hard for a bill, H.R. 800, which would deny workers the right to a federally supervised, private-ballot election when deciding on union membership. Currently, the law supposes that a workplace deciding on union representation should be free of corruption and strong-arming from both employers and union organizers. As such, a private-ballot election is conducted in which a majority of workers must decide for union representation in order for a union to be established. No one knows how an individual worker voted unless he wants them to — not his boss, not his coworkers, and not the union guy out front with the mean look and the baseball bat.

Instead of this, H.R. 800 would strip workers of this federally supervised private-ballot right and replace it with a corruption-laden public system known as “card check.” Instead of a federally supervised, private ballot election that retains confidentiality and protection, a card-check campaign makes the wishes of workers known to everyone. Union thugs follow workers home, harass their families, and generally do anything they can (including allegations of bribery and violence) to get that card check signature. Allegations have been made of union organizers taking advantage of developmental disabilities, abusing language barriers, and misrepresenting what signing the card means.

If a majority of these workers sign a public card check, the union is established with the same force and permanency as if there had been a federally supervised, private-ballot election. H.R. 800 has 234 sponsors in the House of Representatives (far more than is needed for passage, and including only seven Republicans but many “moderate” Democrats), and recently was reported out of Congressman George Miller’s (D., Calif.) Education and Labor Committee. The only hope for bottling up this anti-democratic legislation is in the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed for passage.

Is this really the way that workers should choose union representation (not just for themselves, but for all workers after them, since union affiliation is relatively permanent)? Most Americans say no. In a recent poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, 87 percent of Americans said that a federally supervised, private ballot election right should be retained by workers when deciding on union membership. A similar percentage of unionized households also agreed with this. (For full results of the poll and for more information on this issue, go to www.myprivateballot.org. There you can also see a list of over 250 organizations opposed to H.R. 800.)

One interesting twist on this tale is that one congressman feels pretty strongly about workers having private-ballot rights — George Miller! That would be the same George Miller who wants to strip away private ballot rights for workers in H.R. 800. The catch is that he apparently thinks that only Mexican workers should have this private-ballot right.

On August 29, 2001, sixteen Democratic members of Congress (led by Miller, but joined by Barney Frank, Pete Stark, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and others) wrote to the Mexican government about private-ballot rights for Mexican workers. In the letter, they state, “We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union that they might not otherwise choose.” In other words, a federally supervised, private ballot election is needed to make sure that workers can make a free choice. Opening up worker choices to public card-check campaigns doesn’t “ensure that workers are not intimidated.”

Those of us opposed to H.R. 800 could not agree more. We just wish that George Miller wanted to preserve American workers’ private-ballot rights as much as he wants to preserve it for Mexican workers.

 –  Cesar Conda, a principal of Navigators LLC and a policy council co-chair of the Free Enterprise Fund, is a policy research consultant to the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.


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