Secret ballot voting must be preserved to give workers a fair vote without threat of intimidation
In April 2011, activists trying to unionize 4,400 graduate student research assistants at the University of Minnesota claimed that more than half of these students had signed cards supporting a union. But when the election actually took place last week, 62 percent of the GSRAs who participated voted against unionizing.
This result exposes the big lie behind union demands that Congress enact “card check” legislation.
The “Employee Free Choice Act,” also known as “card check,” was introduced in 2009. If enacted, it would “authorize the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union . . . when a majority of employees voluntarily sign authorizations designating that union to represent them.”
In other words, this process would replace the right of targeted employees to cast a secret ballot in a free and fair election.
Not surprisingly, the measure was hugely controversial, and not just on the right. Among other respected progressives opposing card check, former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern said it “could not be justified.”
McGovern and other “card check” critics expressed reasonable fears that the process could lead to intimidation tactics, with targeted employees pressured to sign cards while union-activists were looking over their shoulders.
The card check bill was supported by all major government and private-sector unions, and by President Obama. It had passed in the House in 2007 and looked to be on the fast-track in the new Congress.
In 2009, the Michigan House approved a resolution supporting “card check,” with 66 Democrats voting “yes” and 40 Republicans opposed. (The lone Republican “yes” vote was Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights.)
But despite a 60-40 Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate in 2009, the bill stalled when several prominent Democrats — under heavy pressure from constituents — announced they could not support the legislation.
The graduate student unionization attempt in Minnesota provides a case study refutation of the unions’ “card check” arguments. Organizers said more than 2,000 students had signed cards for unionization. But when the actual election took place, only 1,142 out of the 2,999 who participated chose unionization, with 1,857 saying no.
If union claims of having 2,000 collected pro-union cards were true, then nearly twice as many students signed cards as actually voted for the union in the privacy of the voting booth, when no union activists were looking over their shoulder.
The undeniable lesson is that a signature on a card does not equal a vote at the polls.
Lawmakers should take heed before again seeking to strip normal secret-ballot voting rights from workers.