By Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) - 09/10/09 09:25 PM EDT
Known commonly as card-check, the Employee Free Choice Act is drawing increased attention at a particularly volatile time in the nation’s economy. The latest U.S. Department of Labor jobs report showed that there were 14.92 million out-of-work individuals seeking jobs in August, and the unemployment rate had soared to an unbelievable 9.7 percent.
Although the term “card-check” has come to embody the entire proposal, it refers specifically to the most renowned provision contained in the bill. Rather than voting by secret ballot, the Employee Free Choice Act would allow a union to form after enough workers sign cards, or petitions. Under current law, most union organizing elections are conducted with federally supervised secret ballots. Under the “card check” system, a union would be formed as soon as a simple majority of workers sign public authorization cards.
Individuals should never be denied the opportunity to unionize freely, but it is my belief they should be able to do so without intimidation, coercion and retribution based on how they vote. Imagine if candidates running for public office were allowed to stand next to the voter inside the voting booth. Americans do not need unnecessary pressure as they cast ballots on Election Day, nor do they need it in their places of work. The secret ballot provides workers with this security. Therefore, the Employee Free Choice Act would actually take away employees’ rights by effectively doing away with secret-ballot elections.
And what happens after the cards are signed? In many instances, this piece of legislation would impose tough new penalties on employers while effectively doing nothing to strengthen protections for workers.
The Employee Free Choice Act requires that if an agreement on a contract cannot be reached within 120 days, federal officials must step in and take over the business. Federal officials will have authority over major decisions, such as work rules, compensation and benefit plans for two years.
That’s right — government bureaucrats, who have no expertise in the company’s operations, would be calling the shots at newly unionized businesses for two years. This government-imposed bind and virtual takeover of the workplace is a drastic departure from longstanding labor laws and could destroy businesses. Additionally, as the American public has seen from previous intrusions, the government does not always have the best solution.
Congress should be centering its attention on creating jobs and protecting small businesses, not advancing legislation that removes democracy in the workplace. Not only does this bill create an adverse environment between workers, it also impacts the relationship between the employee and the management. In unstable times such as these, the two factions must work together to devise a plan that best serves the long-term goals of the business and the needs of the worker.
With the cost of living increasing while employment opportunities and security become less of a reality for many, families do not need the added unease of workplace retribution for standing up for their fundamental rights. As American citizens have the right to go to the voting booth in secrecy, each and every worker should have the protection of casting a private ballot. After all, private-ballot elections are the very foundation of the democratic process for which members of Congress are chosen. What excuse do we have to eliminate this right for the hard-working public we are elected to represent?
For this reason, I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 1176, the Secret Ballot Protection Act, which would guarantee workers the right to a secret-ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board and prohibit unions from coercively subjecting employees to a public card-check campaign.
America is a democratic republic, founded on the premise, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” The Employee Free Choice Act rejects this basic idea. Our diligent men and women deserve better, and our economic prosperity depends on it.
Alexander serves on the House Appropriations Committee.