West Wing’s Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford Claim ‘Card Check’ Won’t End Secret Ballot for Workers

April 3, 2009 - 6:57 PM
"West Wing" actors Martin Sheen and Bradley Whitford told CNSNews.com that the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the "Card Check" legislation, does not get rid of the secret ballot for workers who may want to unionize.
(CNSNews.com) – “West Wing” actors Martin Sheen and Bradley Whitford told CNSNews.com that the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the “Card Check” legislation, does not end the use of the secret ballot in union organizing efforts.
 
Under current law, workers can vote for or against unionization through a private-ballot election supervised by the federal government.
 
However, under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, if more than 50 percent of employees at a business publicly sign a card, the government would have to certify the union, and a private ballot election would not take place. 
 

 
The executive director of the American Rights at Work, who joined the “West Wing” actors, said the bill does not allow the federal government to dictate employees’ wages or benefits through an arbitration procedure if the company cannot reach a contract with the union.
 
However, the bill says that if a union and employer do not reach a contract after 90 days, a federal “arbitration panel” will render a “binding” decision to settle the dispute.
 
The “West Wing” actors appeared with several union workers and advocacy groups at a press conference on Capitol Hill to show support for the Employee Free Choice Act. They spoke to the members of the media in the office of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who sponsored the Senate version of the bill S. 560.
 
Sheen was asked by CNSNews.com, “Do you think workers should have the right to a private ballot – against – the right to a private ballot when unions are trying to unionize their jobs?”
 
He responded, “Well, that’s a guaranteed right, and it's supported by the National Labor Relations Board, but we all know that in the work place there’s such intimidation when a union organizer shows up and tries to get people interested in organizing. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but the reason you are asking this question is you’re saying that forecloses this legislation. Why are you asking this question?”
 
The rest of the exchange between Sheen, Whitford and CNSNews.com was as follows:
 
CNSNews.com: “Well, the legislation, some of the issues in it are the secret ballot and--”
 
Sheen: “No, it’s not an issue because – you really have to be specific in knowing what this bill is about.”
 
Whitford: “This bill does not get rid of the secret ballot.”
 
Sheen: “On the contrary. It’s their choice.”
 
Whitford and Sheen: “It’s not the employer’s choice.”
 
Sheen: “That’s the difference.”
 
Whitford: “The notion that the labor movement is out to abolish their own members’ rights to a secret ballot just doesn’t pass the laugh test. And people who are propagating the rumor that it does, their sudden compassion for worker’s rights is just not believable.” 
 
However, the language of the 10-page bill, (H.R. 1409 and S. 560) says, “If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a).”
 
Simply, if more than 50 percent of the employees sign the card (in public) to unionize, there will be no private ballot election.
 
The bill also requires mandatory government arbitration of employment contracts if a union and employer fail to agree to a contract after 90 days.
 
When asked if this means the government will dictate the wages and benefits of the workers in that business and if the federal government should be given that power, Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director for American Rights at Work, said that’s not what the bill does.
 
“That’s not what the bill does,” she told CNSNews.com. “That’s just misconception and misinformation about the bill. There’s no government-imposed contracts or anything like that. It creates an incentive for workers and employers to sit down together and get to a first contract.
 
“And let me tell you, there are studies that show in the public sector where this works in Canada, where this works, people actually rarely get to the step of needing to use arbitration,” she said. “It just creates an incentive for the two parties to get together and come up with an agreement.”
 
Maxwell went on to say that the current system “creates an incentive to not get to an agreement, and the only thing the Employee Free Choice Act does is it gets two parties to the table and says, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s talk about it, and let’s get to an agreement.’”
 
Whitford echoed Maxwell’s comments.
 
“If you’re asking if it’s a secret way to turn us into a socialist government, the answer is no,” Whitford said. “It’s an absurd misunderstanding of--unions are a necessary authority of capitalist enterprise.
 
“I mean, it’s ironical (sic) to me that we’re living in a time where we have deregulated--compromised worker’s rights to the point of deregulating whether banking oversight--to the point where we actually now can’t do anything until we talk to our loan officer in Beijing. We have a communist banker. That’s where deregulation got us,” Whitford said.
 
“It’s like Ayn Rand got loaded and woke up next to Keynes,” he added.
 
The bill, however, says that if an agreement is not reached after the 90-day period beginning on the date bargaining is commenced, either party (the employer or union) may notify the arbitration panel, known as the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service about the dispute.
 
If an agreement is not met 30 days after the request for negotiation, the arbitration panel “shall render a decision settling the dispute and such decision shall be binding upon the parties for a period of 2 years, unless amended during such period by written consent of the parties.”
 
Simply, if the union and the workers do not reach an agreement, the arbitration panel will craft and impose an agreement that is “binding” for two years, unless amended by written consent among the union and the employer. That binding agreement will cover, among other items, wages and benefits.