Economy & Budget

Democracy Being Eroded by Unions It Helped Build

The World War II Memorial, dedicated on May 29 of 2004 stands on the National Mall, commemorating the sacrifice of the 400,000 men and women who died in defense of democracy. Today, less than a mile to the east of that great memorial, Congress is taking steps to undermine democracy right here at home. The vehicle is H.R. 800, the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" (EFCA), better known as the anti-democracy card check bill. In one piece of legislation, it aims to undercut 200 years of democracy and 70 years of settled labor law in the U.S.

Let’s start with the facts: Under current law, a union seeking to represent a group of workers needs to gather signed authorization cards (known simply as "A" cards) from 30% of the employees. Once they do, they can go to a federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and petition to have a secret ballot election among those employees. If the union gets a majority of employees to vote "yes," they win. The process of gathering "A" cards, as you might imagine, is not entirely free of coercion. The union visits employees face-to-face, often at their homes and — how best to put this? — urges them to sign the cards. Not surprisingly, in the sanctuary of a secret ballot, some percentage of employees who were persuaded by the union to sign "A" cards decide to vote against the union. Imagine that.

Over the past half century, organized labor has watched its numbers steadily decline. For this trend they have found a nearly endless stream of villains to blame. For eight years, they blamed the Reagan Administration and its NLRB appointees. That was followed by three years of blame for the appointees of father Bush. For the next eight years, the unions pretty much enjoyed a hand-picked NLRB, but watched as their numbers continued to sink. This caused them to first blame the bad economy and then — incredibly — the good economy. Finally, they blamed the statute itself, the National Labor Relations Act — as being somehow inherently unfair. This would be the same statute — never amended — under which their numbers soared for years. It makes one wonder when their focus might turn inward at the real problem — that they’re selling a product that people just don’t want to buy.

Instead of introspection, however, the unions have turned instead to the anti-democracy card check bill, a thumb on the scales of democracy. What this bill does — incredibly — is throw elections out the window. The bill provides that if the union collects cards from 50%+1 of the employee group, they simply bypass the secret ballot election process and — bingo! — the union wins. You would think that a bill that makes the case against secret ballot elections might face tough sledding in the United States Congress, but you would be wrong. It is championed by labor serf Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.) and counts 231 recipients of union PAC largess as co-sponsors. Never mind that in 2000, Miller sent a letter to the Puebla government in Mexico urging secret ballot union elections. Consistency has never been the unions’ strong suit.

To bolster their case against democracy, the unions have trotted out various organizers and activists who claim to have been illegally fired for their efforts. But this ignores the fact that these employees have a nearly quarter-billion dollar, 1800-employee federal agency that is solely dedicated to sorting out the facts in cases such as theirs. The NLRB decides whether these employees were fired because of union activism or for some other reason. In many cases — big shocker here — the Board finds that employees were fired for offenses other than being a union organizer. And, there’s not a single employer-side labor lawyer who sees the NLRB as an agency with a pro-employer bent.

The unions also cite bogus polls which purport to show that a high percentage of non-union employees want union representation. This, of course, ignores the fact that a percentage of current union members would just as soon get out. But no so fast — the anti-union card check bill is a one-way street. Like the Roach Motel — or the Mafia — you can get in, but you can’t get out. Heads I win, tails you lose.

The bill is a testament to how far Washington has drifted from Real America. The biggest challenge in fighting this bill is convincing rational people outside Washington that it has legs and will likely sail through the House absent a unified effort by reasonable-minded folks. If you’re up for defending democracy, you can click here to send a message to your member of Congress, urging them to oppose this bill. It’s just incomprehensible to most average citizens that Congress would throw elections out the window. But hey, this is Washington. Money talks, secret ballot elections walk. 

So many of the soldiers who returned from World War II had long and successful careers as union members. In fact, they became the middle class that powered the prosperity of this great nation. How ironic that the democracy they fought so hard to defend is being eroded right here at home by the very unions they helped build.

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