The Corner

Employee Free Choice Act and the NAACP

The NAACP has come out in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act (“EFCA”), claiming that EFCA will “help protect the democratic rights of workers who choose to form unions.”  Ironic.


EFCA substantially dispenses with secret ballot union elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead of a secret ballot, EFCA substitutes authorization cards signed by employees in the presence of, at minimum, a co-worker or union agent. No secrecy; the employer, the union, and all of the other employees can know who signed the cards and who didn’t. It doesn’t take a very vivid imagination to assess the various dynamics that come into play whenever someone is required to a make public decision about  such a contentious and volatile issue.


Four decades ago, black voters in the Deep South and other regions of the country were subject to threats, intimidation and harassment for attempting to cast a secret ballot. People were killed for trying to register blacks. The secret ballot was and remains a hallmark of free choice. The NAACP was at the center of the fight for blacks to gain access to the secret ballot.


Clearly, the interests at stake in EFCA aren’t the same as in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Neither are the dangers. But the NAACP’s support of EFCA raises the question of whether the organization’s leadership ever pondered the following EFCA scenario:


Joe is one of 7 blacks out of 38 workers at a casting plant. He doesn’t have much seniority because he just came to the plant after working for the last 12 years at a bearings manufacturer that recently closed.


Joe suspects most of his co-workers don’t want a union because they’ve seen other plants in the area shut down operations and move to states with lower average labor costs. Joe’s in favor of the union because he thinks it will mean higher wages for someone like him.


Joe’s the only black employee on second shift. At lunch one day, a co-worker approaches him and in front of everyone in the break room asks Joe to sign an authorization card. Joe begins to reach for a pen but hesitates when he senses his co-workers watching him. He declines to sign.


EFCA could put any employee in the uncomfortable position of making a public declaration that might be opposed by his employer, co-workers, or union organizers. The fact that the employee is new or a minority in the workplace doesn’t do much to lessen that discomfort. You’d think that if any organization would recognize that fact it would be one that purports to advance the interests of minorities.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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