New U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., recently got one of those calls politicians dread. A major political support group is conducting a loyalty check.
This time it was the labor unions and they wanted the freshman Democrats support for HR800, the Employee Free Choice Act. The problem is that this card check bill has nothing to do with providing free choice for workers in union organizing elections. In fact, it does the exact opposite. The card check, when signed and returned to a union representative, would replace the right to a federally supervised secret ballot for deciding whether to unionize.
With their folks back in control of Congress, unions are addressing their most pressing problem: union membership has been steadily declining for more than 50 years. Even though federal labor law assiduously protects the right of workers to unionize if they wish, union membership peaked back in 1958, when 39 percent of private sector employees belonged to a union. The percentage of unionized workers has fallen each year since, until today just 7.78 percent of private-sector workers become union members, the lowest level since 1901.
Big Labor, weary of this lack of success, is demanding a change in the rules. Thirty percent of the workers signing a card check is currently sufficient to require an election to unionize. But the AFL-CIO knows that it takes about a 75 percent card check response to assure an even chance of victory in the election. The reason is obvious. With card check, union organizers and co-workers all know which individual employees do (and do not) want to be represented by a union. Standing in the way of union organizers is often foolhardy.
Americans instinctively understand this isn't right. We know the right to a secret ballot is one of our essential political freedoms. We have often urged other nations to assure this for workers as well as for voters.
Congress and the National Labor Relations Board have worked for years to assure workers rights to a fair election. Courts have also acknowledged the possibility that workers are not free to vote their preferences under card check. It in 1965, a circuit court held that it is beyond dispute that secret election is a more accurate reflection of the employees true desire than a check of authorization cards collected at the behest of the union organizer and subsequent courts have repeatedly concurred.
Mitchell may not care about the courts, but heres his problem. Astounding majorities of Americans oppose the provisions of H.R. 800. A McLaughlin and Associates Poll showed 89 percent believed a workers vote should remain private and 87 percent agreed every worker should continue to have the right to a federally supervised secret ballot election. A recent Zogby poll found that even union members, by 84 to 11 percent, believed employees should be able to vote on union membership.
The far left magazine Nation, though, claims that H.R. 800 is an issue of basic human rights and democracy, including freedom of association and speech. A typical blogger writes that card check protects peoples very basic rights to organize. Are these people a hoot, or what? Its an issue of democracy to deny ballot privacy and were protecting workers rights by taking away their vote!
The Nation also claims that without this new law, employers will continue to ignore cards and demand elections. That sounds about right. Still, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi explains, were going to move on card check because now we set the agenda and that will be part of it. So there.
Let the ludicrous arguments go. Heres what you need to know. Unions invested $104 million in reportable expenses in last years election, much more in unreported indirect support and they won. They have a huge agenda and they're determined to get their moneys worth.
H.R. 800 passed the House with Mitchell's vote. He knows his constituents don't approve (he may even agree with them) but he just has to hope the fallout is manageable. In his new world, theres apparently not much you can do when the union bosses call in their chits.