Union Members Demand Secret Ballots

Frustrated with what they call intimidation and misrepresentation by their labor unions, around 15 employees from Midwestern and Southern states traveled to Washington, D.C., on May 12 to demand a right to secret-ballot union elections.

“It makes you angry down in your soul,” said Donna Stinson from Bristol, Va., who spoke in favor of giving workers a fair vote on whether to unionize.

“The right to a fair and secret-ballot election for everyone is protected through our Constitution,” said Rep. Charlie Norwood (R.-Ga.), who has proposed a bill to guarantee such elections. “Apparently many of the big union bosses didn’t get the memo.”

As union membership in America’s workforce has hit historic lows in recent years, union officials have increasingly denied workers the right to a secret ballot when making union representation decisions. As a result, union organizers can exert tremendous pressure on specific workers by stalking employees at home, and intimidating them in the workplace.

Stinson, who works for Dana Corp. told her story in her soft Southern accent. In 2002, her company held a National Labor Relations Board secret-ballot election to choose whether to unionize under the powerful United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The union lost, but a year later the same workers who rejected UAW representation were informed that Dana and UAW had formed a partnership agreement under which UAW was given access to the plant in order to pressure employees into signing card checks that would hand control to the union. After bullying enough workers into signing, UAW took control of the plant.

With the card check system, the union needs to line up only 50% of the workers, plus one, in order to gain control over the company. Card checks also force workers to publicly choose sides, which can divide the work place and create a hostile environment. “We should not have to explain our decisions to our co-workers or the union,” said Stinson. “These are important decisions that affect our jobs, our families, our finances and for some people, their religious or political beliefs.”

Moreover, many workers do not even realize that when they sign the card, they are casting a vote in favor of the union. Union organizers try to keep things as confusing as possible for employees, said Stinson.

Norwood’s bill, the Secret Ballot Protection Act (HR 4343), provides protection for workers from “card-check” schemes and guarantees secret ballot elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) when deciding whether or not to unionize.

National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit organization providing free legal aid nationwide to employees whose human and civil rights have been violated by union abuses, recently organized this press conference with Norwood and the beleaguered employees.

Stefan Gleason, vice president of National Right to Work, said that unions should not be “crammed down the throats of workers.” He related that companies have started making neutrality agreements with unions–basically forcing employees to join the unions. The hotel, automobile, textile and construction industries are most affected by union bullying, said Gleason.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) have both introduced legislation that would take away employees’ right to vote on union representation. Under their bill, if a union can acquire more than 50% support in a labor unit, then the NLRB “shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative.”

Clarice Atherholt from Ohio, who also works for Dana Corporation, said that presidential hopeful John Kerry is one of the sponsors of this bill that would take away the rights of many workers. “Kerry has lost a lot of votes because of this,” said Atherholt. Wearing a red shirt that boasted “proud to be pro-freedom,” Atherholt said, “These bills and their co-sponsors are trying to take away our freedom to a secret ballot election.”