Fresh from successfully passing much of their liberal agenda in the first hundred hours of the new Congress, House Democrats are pushing a bill that would leave employees vulnerable to solicitation and intimidation from co-workers, union officials and employers. The measure is intended to boost union membership in the private sector, reviving a moribund segment of the Democrats’ political base.
The bill, misleadingly named the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), strips employees of their right to a secret ballot election when deciding on whether or not unionize, and leaves a system called "card check" as their only option.
Card check is a process in which employers agree to recognize the union if a majority of employees publicly sign cards requesting a union’s representation. Under current law the card check process is usually followed by a secret ballot election to ensure that employees have not been pressured into signing.
Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) told HUMAN EVENTS that EFCA "takes away what we as citizens have come to expect in our country, which is an opportunity that when we have an election or polling that its free and private. Going to the card check-off is neither a producer of freedom nor of privacy."
Supporters of EFCA flexed their muscle by signing up an overwhelming 232 House co-sponsors including seven Republicans: Chris Shays of Connecticut, Steve LaTourette of Ohio, John McHugh, Peter King and Vito Fossella of New York and Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey.
Co-sponsorship of this bill has proven that several supposedly conservative Blue Dog Democrats are more than willing to embrace the liberal causes of their leadership. Representatives Charles Melancon (D.-La.), Heath Shuler (D.-N.C.), and Brad Elsworth (D.-Ind.), all of whom singed up as co-sponsors, did not respond to HUMAN EVENTS inquiries. "They’re blowing their cover" said conservative activist Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform.
Ironically, Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.), the bill’s chief sponsor, had written a letter to Mexican labor authorities in August 2001 demanding secret ballots for Mexican workers. "We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose," wrote Miller, who signed the letter along with 10 of EFCA’s other Democrat co-sponsors.
Miller’s spokesman Tom Kiley did not return HUMAN EVENTS’ phone calls, but he told Congressional Quarterly that Miller’s letter to Mexican labor authorities pertained to "choosing between two unions, not whether to form a union." Kiley said that the bill still would let employees petition for secret ballot elections.
J.P. Freire, a spokesman for the Center for Union Facts said "Why should one have to petition for a secret-ballot election, when Miller’s own language reflects that secret ballot elections are safer and fairer on an absolute scale?"
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this winter that union membership declined from 12.5 % of the workforce in 2005 to 12.0% in 2006, representing a loss of 326,000 members. Unions, in need of new recruits, have turned to Congress to reinvigorate themselves. "Labor union bosses invested a lot of money in the Democrats to take control of the house and now they want to be rewarded," said Norquist. "This is the crassest kind of bribery — money for your campaign — and now you go make workers give money to the AFL-CIO."
"Democrats are generally strongly supported by the unions, and what unions want is usually what democrats will give," said Walberg.
The Committee on Education and Labor held a hearing Feb. 8, allowing employees to tell personal stories sharing instances when they were pressured or abused by their employers when attempting to form a union. On the other side, however, Conservatives argue that employees are less susceptible to coercion when the process is kept democratic and votes are secret.
"Why does the rest of the world laugh when we say we are the force for democracy in the world?" asked Norquist "Because we are about to see half of congress explain that they aren’t really for democracy."
Ryan Ellis, Executive Director of the Alliance for Workers Freedom says that EFCA could receive a House vote as soon as this month "They want to get this off the table ASAP, because they are beginning to recognize the messaging is just awful for them," said Ellis.