Bill to End Secret Ballots in Union Organizing Will Cost Blacks Their Jobs, Says Black Chamber of Commerce

By Josiah Ryan | February 25, 2009 | 7:00 PM EST

Harry C. Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce (Photo courtesy of National Black Chamber of Congress)

( – If a union-boosting bill is passed by Congress later this year, it could cost members of the African American community their jobs, members of a panel hosted by the National Black Chamber of Congress (NBCC) said at the National Press Club on Tuesday.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) or “card check” bill, is heavily favored by labor unions and their Democratic allies.

The bill would give more leverage to union organizers by replacing the secret ballot with a system in which workers would openly sign a card saying they want to join a union. To unionize a workplace, fifty percent of the workers would have to sign a union authorization card.

Critics say the public "card check" process leaves workers open to unfair pressure from union organizers. Further, they say that effectively eliminating the secret ballot is contrary to American tradition.

Once 50 percent of a company's employees  sign a union authorization card, the company would have to enter into negotations with the union within 10 days. If the union and the employer do not reach a final agreement with 120 days, the contract negotiations would go to binding arbitration conducted by the government, and a government official would dictate the wages and benefits the company must pay to its newly unionized workers. 

“If this is enacted, it will cost African Americans jobs,” Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, told “Absolutely.”
John Biagas, a panelist and CEO of Bay Electric Co., told that “unions were a good thing a while ago—but today unions essentially want to run your company.”
“Card check is what I would characterize as un-American,” said Biagas.
Michelle Bernard, a panelist and president and CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, explained that artificially high wages and benefits demanded by unions would cause businesses to lay off workers. The unemployment that would result would hit the African American community especially hard, she said.
“If you are an employee of a small minority-owned business and your employees are forced to join unions and your costs rise over a certain percentage, what are you going to do?” said Bernard.
“You don’t want to go out of business, so you are going to be forced to cut jobs, and you are going to be forced to hire fewer people. And we know generally when there is an unemployment crisis, it affects the general population one way, and it has an even more negative impact on minorities and on women. That’s the way it is in this country right now,” she added.
As a senator, President Barack Obama sponsored card check legislation, and during his presidential campaign, he said he would sign the bill into law.
Alford noted in his presentation that he recently attended a small business meeting at the White House and is not looking to pick a fight with the president.
“You won’t find a bigger cheerleader,” said Alford of President Obama. “But on this one, we have got to butt heads. We will lock horns with unions when they try to block our members and entrepreneurs from doing business the way it’s supposed to be done.”
In the House of Representatives, the legislation is expected to pass because of the large Democratic majority there. In the Senate, where rules favor the minority party, there is a chance the current momentum behind the legislation could be stopped.
Alford said his organization is working on fighting card check and added that the unions can expect the “mother of a fight” when the bill is brought up for legislative action.
“I know plenty of business owners who will go to hell soaked in sulfur before they let this thing pass,” said Alford.
According to the official press release, the NBCC held the panel discussion to “voice its opposition to organized labor's anti-growth agenda and the potential harm it could inflict on African American-owned businesses and the greater small business community."

Labor unions, meanwhile, insist that the card check system will not necessarily replace the secret ballot. "The fact is, if one-third of workers want to have a National Labor Relations Board election at their workplace, they can still ask the federal government to hold an election,"  the AFL-CIO says on its Web site.

The unions say the card-check system"simply gives workers another option" in the form of majority sign-up. Unions also say it takes the advantage away from "big businesses" which "routinely harass, intimidate or even fire workers who try to organize."

According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, American workers have decided whether to form a union with a private vote for more than 60 years.  "The secret ballot lets workers vote their conscience without risking job loss or physical assault for making the 'wrong' choice," it says.