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Union Elections & Worker Choice

Supporters of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act have argued in favor of scrapping current workplace election rules in order to give – as their bill name implies – a “choice” to workers.

Given that the public sign-up process known as “card check” is notorious for subjecting workers to the threat of intimidation, coercion, and retribution, the claim has always been dubious at best. Yet there’s another type of worker choice that EFCA supporters conveniently ignore.

Although most people think of union election procedures in the context of workers deciding whether to form a union in the first place, it’s worth asking what kind of options workers have when they want to leave one union to join another. Clearly, it’s a question of worker choice – and once again, an election with a private ballot is what’s protecting that choice:

“A federal labor board decision this week has given a major victory to a breakaway union vying with the giant Service Employees International Union to represent tens of thousands of California healthcare workers.

“On Tuesday, the National Labor Relations Board called for elections to determine who has the right to represent some 2,300 Kaiser healthcare workers employed at various sites in Southern California.

“An SEIU affiliate currently represents the workers, but the breakaway group filed a petition in February challenging the SEIU. The balloting, likely to be held in January, will give employees a chance to choose between the two unions.”

McDonnell, “Labor Board OKs Challenge to SEIU,” Los Angeles Times, 12.04.09

Ironically, EFCA supporters think so too. Remember the letter written by 16 House Democrats to Mexican officials back in 2001?

“We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they may otherwise not choose.”

Democrats have argued rather clumsily that their advocacy of the secret ballot was not about forming a union, but choosing between two rival labor organizations. They’re right – and it proves the point just as well. If we want to protect workers’ right to freely choose how and whether to be represented by a union in the workplace, the best way to do so is through a secret ballot.

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