Former Senator and 1972 Democratic Presidential nominee, George McGovern, has in recent years become something of a liberty loving fellow. In his most recent column, he writes about the so-called “card check” legislation currently pending in Congress that would do away with secret ballots for union elections:
As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.
The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.
The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.
Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.
More. My own views on this matter are somewhat more radical (or, in the views of some, reactionary). I see no reason why if workers want to form a union, they should have to convince 50% of their fellow workers to go along. Where two or three are gathered together to organize, there you should have a union. Nor should there be any limits on the ability of unions to strike, to negotiate for preferential benefits for its members (up to and including closed shop agreements with employers), or to restrict membership in a union however they might wish. If different workers for a given employer belong to different unions (as is the case, I believe, in France), that’s fine with me. If workers and employers want to form an association together to work out their differences (a so-called “company union” common in places such as Japan) that’s fine with me too. On the other hand, if an employer or worker chooses not to associate with a given union, or with any union at all, they should be free to do so.
That, however, is not the situation we have, nor is it likely to arise in the foreseeable future. And as long as the rule is that unionization is an all-or-nothing affair, requiring secret ballot elections seems like a fairly good idea.