Preserving employees’ rights to secret ballots

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By Congressman Bob Goodlatte

It has been widely reported that one of the top priorities of the incoming Obama Administration is the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation which strikes a huge blow to the privacy rights of workers throughout the country.  With a title like the “Employee Free Choice Act” you would expect this legislation to protect the American worker.  Unfortunately, it does the exact opposite and its title is deliberately misleading. 

    This legislation, which I voted against in 2007, allows the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to certify a union without conducting a requested secret ballot election.  The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives private-sector workers the right to join or form a labor union and to bargain collectively over wages, hours, and other working conditions.  The Employee Free Choice Act would change the procedures under which workers choose to join, or not to join, a union by eliminating the secret ballot system and requiring employees to make their decisions public.

    Under current law, employees can petition or sign union authorization cards, commonly referred to as “card checks”, requesting union representation.  If at least 30 percent of employees have signed the petition or cards, the NLRB conducts a private-ballot election to determine if union representation is desired by the majority of the employees.  The Employee Free Choice Act would give the NLRB the authority to forgo the secret ballot election when a majority of the bargaining unit employees have signed authorizations designating the union and there is no other union currently recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees.  These card checks are not private and can be made known to unions, employers, or others.  When choosing whether or not to join a union, employees must have the right to cast a private ballot.  They should not face fear of intimidation by union bosses and organizers or by employers. 

    It is especially ironic that Democrats in Congress who are so eager to get rid of the secret ballot for American workers used a secret ballot process for their own leadership elections just a few weeks ago.  Despite the efforts of Big Labor and the Democratic majority in Congress, American workers continue to value their privacy and largely oppose the changes that would result from the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.  In fact, recent polls indicate that 89 percent of Americans believe that a worker’s vote should remain private and not be public information.

     I support the right of workers to organize unions when they choose, but while the name of this bill implies a promise of choice for employees, the intent of the bill strips employees’ freedom of privacy by eliminating the secret ballot system.  Secret ballots are a hallmark of a free and democratic society and are strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of our citizens including union members.  I will continue working to protect this most basic of freedoms for all American workers.