Protect workers, democracy by defeating card-check bill

Ernest Rodrigue
April 16, 2007
Antoinette Rodrigue
April 18, 2007

Successful entrepreneurs know that a key factor in running a thriving business is a good relationship between owners and their employees. In the current economy, the competition for good workers is intense, so it’s clearly in the interests of business owners to foster that relationship.

However, there’s a movement in Congress that not only would undermine those efforts, but also would attack a sacred institution of American democracy n the right to a secret ballot. A bill with the misleading name of the “Employee Free Choice Act” has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and will be considered in the Senate. The bill would force employers to recognize a labor union without its employees first holding a secret-ballot election.

The bill would force the use of so-called “card-check agreements.” Under a card-check system, a union gathers “authorization cards” signed by workers to supposedly express their desire to unionize. Once labor organizers collect cards from more than 50 percent of a business’ workers, that business is unionized.

Once you take away an employee’s right to make a free, unencumbered choice by a secret ballot, you subject them to an environment of potential harassment where it’s difficult for them not to support forming a union. In addition, the business owner may well be surprised to find their employees unionized without ever having a chance to engage employees and explain the potential effects of a union on the business, which is permitted under current law.

Further, once a union presents its contract offer, the owner has four months to accept it. If he or she does not, the matter is turned over to the federal government for binding arbitration. That means that a bureaucrat with no familiarity with the business, or the industry that it’s in, will singularly and solely, without appeal, decide the wages and benefits that business will provide.

This isn’t to say that management is always perfect, or to excuse management teams that take huge compensation for poor performance, at the expense of employees. There are always exceptions of owners and managers who don’t treat employees fairly, and that’s wrong. But it simply isn’t good public policy to make legislation on the basis of a few bad apples.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership continues to decline nationwide. In the private sector, 7.4 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2006, continuing a decades-long decline from the approximately 35 percent of all workers who belonged to a union in the 1950s.

However, while America has become less and less unionized, the economy has become stronger. Real wages and productivity are up, and interest rates are low. ÜWhy would we, as a country, want to go backward economically?

The current system of secret-ballot elections is a legitimate process that’s based on a fundamental part of American democracy. Let’s not throw it out the window just for the sake of increasing union membership.

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Jim Brown is a spokesperson for the National Federation of Independent Business, Louisiana’s and the nation’s leading small-business advocacy association.