The Senate last week confirmed Hilda Solis, a former California congresswoman, as our nation’s Secretary of Labor. I voted against Ms. Solis’ confirmation because of concerns I have with her support of legislation that would abolish secret ballots for employees voting in workplace unionization elections.
The debate over this legislation – the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) – was reignited by the Solis nomination. I have real concerns regarding what role Secretary Solis will play in advancing this anti-worker legislation. In addition to eliminating workers’ fundamental right to a secret ballot, the EFCA would hurt economic productivity, cause further job loss, and deepen our current economic crisis.
The secret ballot is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. For decades, unions have respected the democratic process by participating in federally-supervised private ballot elections when employees are deciding on whether to unionize. Now, in an effort to reverse a decades-long decline in union membership, organized labor leaders are resorting to extreme measures.
Big Labor’s behind it
By pushing the deceptively named EFCA, Big Labor is trying to replace secret ballot elections with a process known as “card-check.” Under this proposal, union organizers would do away with the secret ballot and ask workers to sign their ballot cards in public. This process would put workers at greater risk of intimidation and coercion at the workplace, and would make it more difficult for workers to express their opinion anonymously.
In speaking against the card-check process, former Sen. George McGovern – a one-time Democratic nominee for president and a self-described longtime friend of labor unions – described the practice as “disturbing and undemocratic.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, McGovern wrote: “We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of their right to a secret-ballot election.”
According to a January 2007 poll by McLaughlin amp& Associates, almost 9 in 10 voters (87 percent) agree that every worker should have the right to a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether to organize a union. A 2009 poll conducted by the Center for Union Facts found that 82 percent of non-unionized workers would not like their jobs to be unionized.
Look at unions and automakers
A good case study on unions’ impact on economic growth is the auto industry. By demanding above-market compensation and counterproductive work rules, union costs have brought the Big Three auto manufacturers to the brink of bankruptcy, leaving them to ask for billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts in order to continue operating.
It is a different story for automakers like Nissan and Toyota who have located in southern right-to-work states like Mississippi. These companies are not hamstrung by the costs of union contracts, making them more efficient and competitive. At the same time, these companies have been able to match the Big Three’s per-hour wages paid to employees.
Last week, in an effort to ensure workers’ rights are protected, I joined in introducing the Secret Ballot Protection Act. This legislation guarantees the right of America’s workers to have a secret ballot election on whether to unionize, and would stop Big Labor’s efforts to force the undemocratic card-check process.
I believe American workers are entitled to the right to organize and join a union. That process, however, needs to respect one of the basic tenets of our democracy – the secret ballot. I will continue to stand up for workers’ rights and against a forced card-check system.
Roger F. Wicker, a Republican who resides in Tupelo, is the junior U.S. senator from Mississippi. Contact him though his official Website: http://wicker.senate.gov/public/.