Republicans Introduce Bill to Preserve Secret Ballots in Union Organizing

By Matt Cover | February 25, 2009 | 7:00 PM EST

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C), lead sponsor of a Repblican bill to counter union card-check legislation. (AP photo)

Washington ( – Congressional Republicans led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced Wednesday that they are sponsoring  legislation to protect the right of workers to have a secret ballot when they are deciding whether they want a labor union to represent them.

The bill is designed  to counter the proposed union-backed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)--a bill the Republicans  say would destroy the secret ballot system currently used in union organizing.

The Secret Ballot Protection Act was introduced in both the House and Senate in an effort to preempt EFCA, which is expected to be introduced later this year. 

The bill would prohibit a union from being recognized based solely on employees signing publicly signing union authorization cards at the public urging of union organizers. It would provide that a union may only be recognized by an employer, following certification by the National Labor Relations Board, if it has won majority support in a secret ballot election conducted by the NLRB. 
Critics of EFCA – known as card-check – charge that by requiring the government to certify a union if a majority of workers publicly sign cards in support of unionization, the bill would effectively remove the rights of workers to vote on unionization as they do now--via secret ballot.
DeMint echoed those criticisms, asking why congressional Democrats, who support EFCA, would want to take workers’ rights away in the middle of a recession.
“Why would we be using these difficult times as an excuse to expand unionization,” the conservative South Carolina Repuiblcan asked at a press conference announcing the GOP’s alternative proposal.
“Why does this Democrat majority, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid (D-Nev.), want to deny American workers the fundamental right of secret ballots when union bosses are trying to unionize?”
The answer, DeMint offered, was that card-check was simply political payback for unions who helped elect Democratic candidates during the 2008 elections.
“The answer is pretty simple,” DeMint said. “It’s not about fairness to workers. It’s not about getting this economy going again. It’s not about protecting jobs. This is political payback, plain and simple.”
Republicans said they were fearful of workers being pressured to sign union cards by professional organizers. Organizers are used by big labor unions to conduct registration drives at factories or other business locations – with the aim of forming new unions.
The Republicans said they had already heard testimony of workers being harassed and intimidated because they refused to sign the union cards.
“If you use the card-check method, as has been proposed with the Employee Free Choice Act, the expectation is that there will be intimidation,” Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) warned.
“We’ve heard testimony, in the HELP (Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions) subcommittee, of examples of intimidation.” Kline continued. “We had a witness who, in testimony, described tactics used in a card-check campaign at her company in Oregon, that during that card-check drive she and her colleagues were subjected to badgering and immense peer pressure, her quote.”
“She ‘exercised her free choice not to be in a union and her work life became miserable because of it.’ That’s the expectation if you go to card-check,” Kline added.
The House and Senate Republicans also cautioned that allowing unions to form without using elections could force already stressed businesses into un-profitability, something which they said made absolutely no sense at any time, but especially in a recession.
“Why would we take the business model that has virtually destroyed the American auto industry and try to force it onto the entire American economy,” DeMint offered.
“This is the American auto industry business model – to force people to join a union if they’re going to work,” DeMint added. “We see how well that’s worked.”

The Republican members of Congress insisted their initiative was not intended to be an impediment to unionization, arguing that workers should always have the right to unionize, but that they should also have the right to vote on it.
“We are on the side of the worker,” Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Calif.) said. “The workers, they have all the rights to form a union. If they want to have a union, that’s totally available, we just don’t want to tip the playing field so that they, the workers, lose their rights.”