Obama, Speaking to AFL-CIO, Calls for Dumping Secret Ballots in Union Elections
August 5, 2010 - 7:51 AMPresident Barack Obama, seeking to rally support for embattled Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, on Wednesday pledged his support for a card check bill, which would eliminate secret ballots in elections to unionize workplaces.
Obama told the AFL-CIO Executive Council that his administration has taken many measures to help union workers and move the beleaguered economy in the right direction.
“We passed the Fair Pay Act to help put a stop to pay discrimination,” Obama told the union leaders gathered in Washington on Wednesday. “We’ve reversed the executive orders of the last administration that were designed to undermine organized labor. I’ve appointed folks who actually are fulfilling their responsibilities to make sure our workplaces are safe, whether in a mine or in an office, a factory or anyplace else.”
Then he promised, “And we are going to keep on fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”
The Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the card check bill, replaces the secret ballot by allowing union organizers to publicly ask workers to sign a card in favor of unionizing. If a simple majority of employees approve, then an employer would have to recognize the union.
Supporters say that card-check organizing makes it easier for employees to organize. "Too few workers are able to form unions and bargain because companies routinely block their efforts—and our current legal system is too broken and dominated by corporations to help them," the AFL-CIO Web site says.
But opponents of the legislation – including former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern – warn that the legislation, by doing away with the secret ballot, would subject workers to coercion from pro-union groups. Everyone would know whether a worker said yes or no to forming a union.
The AFL-CIO and other labor groups contend that management controls -- and often blocks -- union elections. It also arguers that "nearly 60 million (workers) would form a union tomorrow if given the chance." Further, the organization contends that some companies already have instituted a card check system voluntarily.
Under the card check proposal, if parties can’t settle a dispute within 120 days, the dispute would go to an arbitration panel that could impose a contract that is binding for two years. Opponents of the bill say that provision would take away any incentive for either side to negotiate.
The Workforce Fairness Institute, an organization opposed to card check, calls the bill the “Employee Forced Choice Act.”
“While President Obama continues to claim out of one side of his mouth that the economy and job-creation are his top priorities, in the next breath he states support for legislation which will result in lost jobs and closed businesses," said Katie Packer, executive director of the WFI, in a statement Wednesday. “It is hard to take seriously Obama's claims concerning his commitment to getting America’s economy hiring again when he has decided to stand with big labor bosses over job creators.”
With unemployment hovering just below 10 percent, Obama acknowledged the economy is not improving as quickly as he would have liked.
“It took us nearly a decade to dig ourselves into the hole that we’re in,” the president said told union leaders. “It’s going to take a lot longer than any of us would like to climb out of that hole. And I’d be lying to you if I thought that all these changes are going to be happening overnight. We’ve still got some tough times ahead. And your members obviously are bearing the brunt of a lot of those tough times.”
Obama said it is important to re-elect Democrats to keep the economy moving forward.
“Somebody pointed out to me that when you’re in a car and you want to go forward, you put it in D,” the president said, referencing D for Democrats and R for Republicans. “You want to go back in the ditch, you put it on R.”