Behold, the self-styled friends of American labor. They are now trying to relieve the American worker of what they consider the unreasonable burden of the secret ballot, which is only one of the cardinal principles of free and fair elections.
The ballots in question are those in elections to determine whether or not a work force will unionize. Unions tend to win these elections when they occur (more than 60 percent of the time in 2005), but that's not good enough to stanch the bleeding in union membership. So the unions want to dispense with the elections in favor of a "card check" process. Or as a union official put it in an organizing dispute a few years ago, "There's no reason to subject the workers to an election."
House Democrats, who behave as if they hold their jobs only at the sufferance of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney (and some of them probably do), have duly obliged by passing legislation to do away with these pesky secret elections, which have been enshrined in the workplace since the National Labor Relations Act (aka the Wagner Act) of 1935. Instead, workers would become unionized when a majority of them signed an authorization card presented to them by union organizers.
The supporters of this card-check approach argue that it is freer from the taint of intimidation than the secret ballot. Perhaps through the looking glass. But a public process in which workers will feel peer and other pressures to sign up is obviously less likely to reflect their true sentiments than a secret ballot. Nonetheless, the Democrats call their legislation the Employee Free Choice Act, which is hilariously perverse.
The House vote is a vindication for the strategy of Sweeney, who, against the advice of union leaders who want to spend more on organizing, has insisted on continuing to bankroll the Democrats. His insight is that trying to unionize workers basically is hopeless without more Democrats in office to tip the playing field in the unions' favor. Hence the raw power play in employer-union relations on the House floor (thankfully the Senate is unlikely to go along).
Sweeney is correct, because most workers rationally calculating their interests will avoid unions. Union membership has shrunk to a husk of itself. In 2006, it was just 12 percent of workers, down from 12.5 percent only a year before and down from 20.1 percent in 1983. Almost half of those union members are government employees, and almost half live in just six states.