Orwell Knew

Ken Blackwell

2/20/2009 12:01:00 AM - Ken Blackwell

After a month in complete control of the federal government, Democrats in Congress and the White House have quickly dispensed with any notion that we have entered into a new post-partisan era of governance. Their campaign claims of wanting to govern inclusively were greeted with optimism by the more gullible among us. However, their recent actions leave no doubt as to their true intentions. They will push through whatever they want whenever they want. The minority party need not participate.

Their first order of business was the wasteful $787 billion economic stimulus bill, rushed through Congress with no Republican votes in the House and three in the Senate. Now they are eager to tackle such controversial and partisan measures like the Fairness Doctrine and card check. And, while the president has recently signaled his opposition to the Fairness Doctrine, card check is an entirely different matter.

Euphemistically called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), card check is anything but. In fact, some may say it is a bit Orwellian.

Further, the measure is a huge political payback to the Democrats’ loyal supporters in organized labor. If passed, it will give big labor the unchecked ability to swell its ranks with new dues paying members.

Here is how it works.

For several decades, employees have enjoyed the right to join a union by voting on the issue with a secret ballot. EFCA would dramatically alter the system of voting on the union question. Rather than casting secret ballots, workers would be asked to sign authorization cards expressing their desire to join a union. These cards would be signed in the open, without the benefit of privacy. The legislation also imposes penalties on employers who illegally interfere with organization drives. On the other hand, there are no penalties for labor unions for illegal interference.

Union bosses say the current system favors employers who want to prevent unionization, and they argue this legislation restores the freedom of workers’ to join a union. They also claim employers intimidate their workers when a unionization process begins.

Those who oppose EFCA claim that it represents an unprecedented government intrusion into the rights of employers and employees to negotiate freely about pay and conditions. Removing the secret ballot, they say, would practically force workers to join a union through the simple “card check” process. Opponents also argue that workers would lose control over their ability to choose whether or not to be represented by a collective bargaining agreement, and they are concerned about the lack of penalties against unions who illegally interfere with the process.

Union bosses have said that if EFCA becomes law, they will be able to double or triple their membership within a year. That may be true, but what will the cost be to our employment picture? The relationship between labor and management has always been a unique and challenging dynamic in our country. Today, businesses both large and small survive because of the healthy relationship that exists due to a respectful understanding between the two sides.

Even the slightest legal change can result in drastic upheaval in our system. The sudden introduction of unions into this environment – an introduction which, under the proposed legislation, would not necessarily reflect the will of employees – could represent a sudden shock to the workplace system.

While workers today enjoy the right to unionize, the secret ballot helps guarantee that unionization is the will of the employee, free of undue pressure or intimidation. That’s why removing the protection of the secret ballot – one of the main provisions of EFCA – represents too drastic a step in these uncertain times.

The fact our new “post-partisan” government wants to payback its political supporters should come as no surprise to political observers. That they are willing to do it by taking away the right of workers to vote by secret ballot is telling. George Orwell saw it coming.