712 Reasons to Protect the Secret Ballot

Fred Wszolek

2/20/2014 12:01:00 AM - Fred Wszolek

Last week, Volkswagen employees at a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted 712 to 626 to reject membership to the United Auto Workers (UAW), dealing a devastating defeat to organized labor. The workers’ vote against unionization demonstrates just how little faith the American people have in union bosses and their false promises.

Months prior to the election, UAW representative Gary Casteel presciently foretold that “if we go for a traditional election where the outside organizations could campaign against us, we’d probably lose.” For this very reason, organized labor fought tooth and nail for Volkswagen to recognize it as its workers’ bargaining representative based on a card check whereby employees express their support for unionization by signing a card.


The card check process is rife with flaws and open to manipulation. Under card check, labor organizers confront workers and can pressure, bully, even coerce them into signing a card. UAW representatives proceeded with card check early on because they knew it was their best opportunity to unionize the plant. But after the union announced a card check majority, some workers immediately complained of malfeasance.

Eight Volkswagen workers filed a charge, alleging that union representatives misled them into signing the authorization cards. Allegedly, they were told that by signing the cards they were merely voicing their support for a vote on the issue, when in fact they were agreeing to union representation. The workers attempted to renege, but were met with burdensome bureaucratic regulations that prohibited them from doing so with ease. The charge led Volkswagen leadership to file a petition for a secret ballot, much to the UAW’s chagrin.

The secret ballot leveled the playing field by allowing workers to vote privately without fear of retribution. Most importantly, the secret ballot, a hallmark of the democratic process, ensured that the ballots would accurately reflect the workers’ free choice.

If a secret ballot election had not been held, things might have turned out differently. UAW President Bob King admitted as much when he stated, “We would be certified as a bargaining representative of the workers at (the VW plant in) Chattanooga, Tenn., if it were not for the right wing forces … Only because of the right-wing attacks and right-wing pressure, we’re going to have to go to an election.” King pointed the finger instead of looking in the mirror, but his comments are representative of his organization’s desire to restrict democracy, the outcome of which has only reinforced the importance of the secret ballot.

It is not as if a secret ballot precluded the UAW from trying to persuade workers to vote in favor of representation. In fact, with the assistance of Volkswagen, the UAW waged an expensive campaign to persuade workers to favor the supposed benefits of joining a union. In the end, Big Labor’s arguments held no water with the workers. The majority of plant employees understood that joining the UAW may very well have endangered the plant’s profitability and their livelihood, which is why they voted to reject union representation.

We can’t say it any better than Volkswagen worker Mike Jarvis, who recently told a media outlet, “Who is growing? Who is moving forward? Who is paying their people great, and who is not? Look at Detroit, where there are city blocks of empty houses. So what is the common denominator there? The UAW.”

The die has been cast. The Chattanooga vote has made it exceedingly clear that American workers will not allow themselves to be forced into unions.

Those 712 Volkswagen workers showed us why protecting the secret ballot in union organizing elections is so important, and why we can never let union bosses take that away from American workers.