The U.S. Senate is expected to vote as soon as Wednesday on legislation to abolish private ballot elections for union certification. The president had promised to veto the bill, and it is almost certain to fall short of the 60 votes needed for cloture under Senate rules, so it’s easy to downplay the significance of the vote. That would be a serious error. The vote is of critical importance for the future of the country, both because it will possibly set the stage for the bill to pass in a future Congress and because it will embolden anti-free market elements in the Democratic Party to pursue an ever more aggressive agenda of bigger government and less economic freedom.
The desperation of union bosses is understandable. They want to wield the kind of political power they used to, but without the hard work of finding a way to provide value to workers without undermining the competitiveness of the companies that employ them. Private-sector unions membership now stands at just 7.4% of the labor force — the lowest ever since these statistics starting being kept. Workers increasingly believe, for good reason, that union bosses either provide little in return for their dues or even work against their interests — ask a steelworker about that, if you can find one.
Union bosses can’t appeal to workers, so they are turning to the federal government for help. Unions bosses, who heavily financed the Democrats’ recapturing of the majority, are pushing a bill that would rig the game in their favor and allow them to force workers into unions. The battle will move to the Senate floor next week. The stakes are high, even though the bill is unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed for cloture.
Under existing law, before a union is certified an employer has the right to request a federally supervised secret ballot election. This allows both the union and the employer to make their case and lets workers decide on a union without fear of reprisal. Democrats and union organizers have for decades promoted the secret ballot as indispensable in promoting workers’ rights internationally.|
The bill the Senate will vote on is exquisitely misnamed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), although it might more reasonably be called the Employee Force and Coercion Act. The bill would abolish secret ballot elections for union certification. The bill would allow unions to organize via so-called card check campaigns, in which union representatives can collect signatures to form a union without any privacy protections.
Union organizers can go to workers homes, openly pressure them in front of co-workers, and use many other high pressure techniques to collect signatures. Many workers sign union cards knowing they can safely and privately vote against the union later. Under this bill that would be impossible.
A recent McLaughlin poll found that 89% of the public prefer the current process to the card check procedure, and a recent Zogby poll found that 78% of union members prefer the current process to one with less privacy protection.
Every vote counts on this. Unions bosses will probably not succeed this year, but this is a death struggle for them and this bill will be back again, perhaps next year and certainly in 2009. The Republicans almost certainly will lose seats in the Senate this cycle, in which they are defending twice as many as Democrats. Union bosses will make Senate candidates sign in blood on this issue to receive their support and funding. The next president may be more than willing to sign the bill. It’s very difficult to get a senator to change his or her position on such a high-profile issue, so the vote margin this week determine what ultimately happens in 2009.
Moreover, the vote will have implications even in the short term. If the new Democratic majority can garner a substantial number of votes for such a radical bill in the face of overwhelming public opposition, they will feel emboldened to pursue an unfettered agenda of big government. Everything from socialized medicine to draconian carbon caps will move from the fringe to political viability.
Unions must adapt to provide real value for their members without unduly burdening the employers that make their jobs possible. They must not be allowed to simply change the rules in order to revive their membership by coercive means. As this heads to the Senate floor the stakes couldn’t be higher — our economic freedom and prosperity hang in the balance.