True Workers' Free Choice - the Role of the Secretary of Labor

Posted: Mar 21, 2007 12:01 AM

In this column on March 7, 2006 I discussed the onward, and misleadingly labeled, so-called Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 800, sometimes referred as to as the "Card Check Bill," passed on March 1 by a House of Representatives vote of 241 - 185. That column follows.

Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has been active in educating the unwary as to the reverse intent of H.R. 800 - to trap workers into going public, so labor leaders can identify those workers, on the issue of whether they ought to join a union. That is the direct opposite of the false name of the legislation and of the justifications offered to support it.

When President George W. Bush's initial choice for nomination as Secretary of Labor, Linda Chavez, withdrew, following unfavorable publicity, the President selected Elaine Chao. He could not have made a better selection. She is a Cabinet Member who continues strong and effective in the second half of the second George W. Bush term. Ms. Chao has excellent conservative credentials and operates upon principle. Not only that, she has assembled a remarkably competent staff. Unlike too many conservatives' taking office she did not surround herself with political enemies.

By irrelevant coincidence, Elaine Chao is the wife of Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Her background is impressive, including college at Mount Holyoke, a Harvard M.B.A., and before the marriage, experience in banking and industry, as well as Deputy Maritime Administrator, Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, and the recipient of a number of nongovernmental awards.

I mention this by way of background because Secretary Chao also expresses great concern about this legislation and authoritatively discusses it with interested groups and individuals.

Imagine your moving into a neighborhood in which you could vote for a candidate for office only by checking off a card publicly available to anyone - no secret ballot. You might be hesitant to vote against the powers-that-be lest, especially in some corrupt cities, you would discover that public services around your house were hard to come by. From enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act in the 80th Congress (1947 - 1948), discussed further in the column following, until the present union membership has dropped from about 35% of the work force to some 12%. Almost certainly the biggest single reason for the drop is the secret ballot.

The question now is what will happen to H.R. 800 in the United States Senate. It is unclear, but a bit doubtful, if Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) can muster 60 votes to pass H.R. 800. President Bush has said, clearly and without hesitation, that he would veto such legislation. The House of Representatives vote was sufficient to sustain a veto. If the Senate were to pass H.R. 800 that vote also probably would fall short of veto-proof.

The unions, however, evidently have a four-year plan to enact such legislation. First, they hope to get it through Congress and override a veto. More realistically, what they really want is a Democratic President and 111th Congress. Then they would be sure of Congressional enactment and a Presidential signature. So millions of dollars would flow into the coffers of vulnerable pro-union Senators and Representatives and pro-union candidates for each House, as well as millions of dues revenues into union coffers.

The secret ballot works well in political elections. For 60 years it has worked well in union elections. It is sacred in our political system. It ought to remain sacred in our system of union organizing. Secretary Chao certainly is on the right track. -------------------------------------------------------

Free Congress Foundation Commentary

Workers Are Entitled To Free Choice In Fact, Not In Name Only

March 07, 2007

With a Democratic Congress for the first time since 1993, it was only a matter of time until some of the Party's favorite constituents came forward to claim their rewards. Within weeks of her coronation Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) informed the media that one of her first priorities was the passage of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, something that big labor has been wanting for over a decade. The House version of the bill, H.R. 800, passed on March 1, 2007 by a vote of 241-185. If the Senate were to pass it, which is doubtful, the President has stated he would invoke his rarely used veto.

The legislation unofficially is known as the "Card Check Bill." What it would do is allow any union trying to win a contract in a specific business or industry to dispense with traditional secret ballots when the employees decide if they want to unionize. (There is a provision that the unions could initiate a secret ballot but they would have no incentive to do so.) Instead the employees simply would sign cards and declare in public whether they are for the union or against it. Another part of this legislation which is equally important but has slipped by many observers is the requirement of binding arbitration if negotiations between management and the union have stalled after a certain number of days. This clearly gives the union an advantage just to wait out the negotiations.

So what do the labor unions and their representatives say when presented with questions and conflicting facts? They argue that there is no pressure on anyone to vote for unionization and that depriving employees of a secret ballot would not pressure them or affect the outcome of an election. And the language in various union publications and on several websites is almost exactly the same when they say this. Several union websites quote the same Cornell University study which suggests pressure is put on the employees not to join the union rather than to join but ignores any pressure the union may put on individual workers. The unions also claim that employees are fired in certain cases for union agitation and that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 guarantees the right of workers to join unions.

I am not a lawyer or an expert on labor, so I asked my research staff to examine some of these claims. The results were surprising even to me. While it is true that the National Labor Relations Act is important, the unions failed to mention that the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 amended it and that since 1947 unions also have been prohibited from engaging in "unfair labor practices."

I also asked for information about this so-called Cornell University study. What a lulu it turned out to be. The research study the unions are talking about was published in a 1994 journal and written by a prominent labor-union spokesperson. This is someone who has testified about unfair labor practices for years and is definitely pro-union. The study itself was based on only one year of "union certification elections" held in the 1980s and it contains several interesting statistical analyses. The one that struck me -- and is easily understood by anyone with even limited education -- is a chart that shows which factors will most likely predict a union win in the vote. Only one thing on the chart will influence a pro-unionization vote: the card check. No other factor including pay raises or promises made by the company or meetings held by either side increases the chance of a pro-union vote other than the card check. No wonder this study is so often quoted by the unions. It contains a blueprint for the successful unionization of almost any business!

The goal of the unions is, of course, to maintain power. In addition, because national trends have been against them for more than thirty years they have tried to stay alive by other means. Globalization and outsourcing have hurt many millions of Americans but the unions have sought to personalize this loss as if it were only hurting their own members when in fact it also has hurt many non-union workers, small businesses and family businesses.

And the unions have failed to address what they have already done to harm the economy with policies that help make the U.S. unable to compete with foreign labor markets. This eventually leads to more outsourcing and the loss of more American jobs. The truth is that the reason people are less likely to join unions is because the unions got greedy themselves and many of their own union workers became disenchanted. Labor unions are no longer able to compete for new members on a level playing field.

Make no mistake: if this legislation were to be enacted into law the result would be lots money for the unions. Nearly $17,000,000 in dues would be added to their coffers if just one group, the Transportation and Security Agency (TSA), were to unionize and this agency was specifically targeted in yet another pro-labor bill that recently sailed through the House of Representatives. The pro-union forces believe that TSA applicability already is a done deal.

The unions have not been honest with the American public. Do not believe them now. This Employee Free Choice Bill is anything but a free choice for workers.

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