Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to hold a vote this Wednesday on perhaps the most unpopular element of the Democratic agenda. The Employee Free Choice Act has already passed the House, but now it faces real hurdles in the Senate because, contrary to the name, it undermines workplace democracy.
Under the so-called card-check bill, a company would no longer have the right to demand a secret-ballot election to certify a union, thus stripping 140 million American workers of the right to decide in private whether to organize.
Republican senators, except possibly Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, are uniformly opposed to the idea. "We went to the secret ballot in the early 1800s in this country for a darn good reason: If somebody's looking over your shoulder, your ballot doesn't mean much," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says, noting fears of intimidation by unions should the bill pass.
But conservatives aren't the only ones concerned. A February survey of 1,000 likely voters by McLaughlin Associates found that 79% of respondents oppose the bill, with only 14% in favor. Even Democrats opposed the idea, 78% to 16%.
So why is Mr. Reid taking the risk of putting the bill on the floor, since even if it passed it would face a certain presidential veto? Simply put, the card check law is the No. 1 priority of union lobbyists in the new Democratic Congress. Union membership numbers are down. In the 1950s, 35% of private-sector workers belonged to unions; only about 7% do today.
Of course, union officials blame others for their decline. "In the past few decades, labor law has been so twisted by corporations and their union-busting hired guns that it is now virtually impossible to form a union against an employer's wishes," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says--even though unions currently win just over half of the elections called over union representation.
Card-check procedures for making a union the sole bargaining representative for employees are already part of labor law. If 30% of workers sign a card asking for a union, an employer is obligated to certify the union or call an election. What the card-check bill would do is force certification without a secret-ballot election as soon as a majority of workers at a plant signed pro-union cards.
Even if card check doesn't prevail at the national level this year, the unions are making progress in pushing the concept through friendly state legislatures. Last Wednesday, a card-check bill backed by the United Farm Workers passed a California Assembly committee. The state Senate has already approved the measure.
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