Preserving secret-ballot votes

A pro-business coalition created to fight organized labor’s card-check campaign has decided, unlike its union foes, to adopt a name that clearly represents its intentions.

Save Our Secret Ballot is launching initiatives to amend the constitutions of Arizona, Arkansas and Missouri to — you guessed it — let employers demand secret-ballot worker elections before recognizing a union’s bargaining power. The group also plans to lobby the Legislatures of Nevada and Utah to put identical proposals on the 2010 ballot.

The moniker stands in stark contrast to labor’s legislative dream, disingenuously labeled the Employee Free Choice Act. Far from granting employees free choices in organizing, the bill would put unions in complete control of the process. Employers would lose their ability to demand secret-ballot elections, and workers would actually have to vote for the opportunity to vote on organization. Instead, companies would be required to recognize a union’s authority to negotiate on behalf of all workers if more than 50 percent of them sign union cards.

With expanded Democratic majorities in Congress and a Democratic president preparing to move into the White House, the AFL-CIO expects the bill will be approved to reward unions for their help in delivering last month’s election victories.

Save Our Secret Ballot hopes the brief language of its proposed constitutional amendment can repel any new federal standard. The amendment reads: “The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. Where state or federal law requires elections for public office or public votes on initiatives or referenda, or designations or authorizations of employee representation, the right of individuals to vote by secret ballot shall be guaranteed.”

It’s a simple, sacrosanct position: Only through secret-ballot elections can voters make their choices in absolute privacy and be insulated from intimidation and retaliation. Such protections offset the bullying tactics of organized labor. When workers must decide whether to have a portion of their paychecks support a highly partisan organization dedicated to protecting the employment of underperforming and incompetent colleagues, they generally vote no. Union membership has been in steady decline for decades.

But when union representatives can corner employees one at a time, often at home, and demand a signature on a union card that serves as a “yes” vote, the results can change. Refusing to sign the card merely increases union pressure on the worker and guarantees return “consultations” by representatives. This is a frightening standard for anyone who remotely questions the benefits of union representation.

“When you have a chance to decide who’s going to represent you — be it in the state legislature, Congress or your place of employment — it ought to be decided by secret ballot,” said Arizona political consultant Tim Mooney, one of the directors of Save Our Secret Ballot. The group’s advisory board includes representatives from the conservative Heritage Foundation, the nonpartisan Americans for Tax Reform and the libertarian Goldwater Institute.

The group’s campaign shouldn’t be necessary. Workers have ample legal safeguards protecting their right to organize. Employers have just shields against union shenanigans. But what the unions want — and what the Employee Free Choice Act delivers — is a stacked deck.

Save Our Secret Ballots is a reasonable response to this unfair legislation, but the group’s lobbyists will be wasting their time in Carson City. Democrats loyal to public and service employee unions control both the Senate and the Assembly, and they won’t be anxious to do anything that discourages organization. Save Our Secret Ballots would be better off seeking an amendment to the Nevada Constitution through initiative.

And when unions sue to block signature collection efforts, maybe they can answer a few questions: If it’s OK to vote on whether to vote, and if it’s OK to have a secret-ballot vote on union representatives, why not vote on organization? Moreover, if it’s OK to decide organization by card check, shouldn’t companies be able to pursue decertification by the same standard?

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