America's labor unions have never enjoyed having to ask a company's employees whether they want to be represented by a union. At present, workers are entitled to vote on this question by secret ballot. This is only fair, since not all unions, by a long shot, are dedicated to the best interests of the workers they want to represent. Some are out-and-out shakedown operations, and plenty of others are run by people whom, to put it gently, you wouldn't want to invite home to dinner. Not surprisingly, surveys indicate that even 71 percent of workers who already belong to unions think secret ballot elections are fair.
But not the unions themselves. So they have designated as their "top legislative priority" a bill now before Congress to force workers to make their choice publicly. It is H.R. 800, and if it becomes law you can kiss a worker's right to vote secretly against unionizing goodbye. With a cynicism that can only be called staggering, its authors have dubbed their little masterpiece the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
Under this bill, a union wanting to organize a plant would simply organize a "card-check campaign." It would ask the workers to sign, publicly, a card requesting union representation. They would not have any opportunity to hear counter-arguments, let alone make their decision in secret (as in an election). If they refused to sign, they would be subject to all the pressures that union organizers and union backers know so well how to employ against recalcitrant workers. What's more, once a majority of workers had signed these cards, the NLRB would have to certify the union without first ordering an election by secret ballot.
Are there real defects in the present system that EFCA would correct? As matters stand, unions win 60 percent of elections on whether to unionize — a proportion that certainly suggests the current process is fair, while allowing for the many cases in which most workers simply prefer not to be represented by a particular union. And employers violate the laws allowing union organizing in just 1.5 percent of cases — which is just another way of saying that in 98.5 percent of cases employers obey the laws.
But EFCA is the unions' dream bill, and it doesn't stop at just preventing workers from casting a secret ballot on whether to unionize. Once a union has been "chosen," the company and the union are to negotiate an initial contract. And if agreement isn't reached within 90 days (something the unions can prevent by just refusing to agree) the parties must enter binding arbitration, and the arbitrator's ruling (which cannot be appealed) would result in a contract that would last for two years. The workers, of course, would have no vote on the contract.
As a final turn of the screw, H.R. 800 would greatly increase the penalties for unfair labor practices committed by an employer during an organizing drive. Well, fair enough, perhaps — but what about unfair practices committed by the union? EFCA doesn't mention that problem at all.
If all this begins to remind you of the Soviet Union, my compliments on your judgment. H.R. 800 is an outrageous assault on the whole principle of fair union organizing. Above all, it exposes every American worker to ferocious pressures to vote for a union, whether he or she wants one or not.
Unfortunately there are scores of members of Congress who are the compliant stooges of Big Labor on any subject that it considers important. In many cases, a huge portion of their campaign funds is contributed by unions. They will cheerfully sell out any worker who stands in the way of the unions getting what they want. The Employee Free Choice Act is a frontal assault on the entire concept of democratic governance, and it deserves to die a fiery death on the floor of Congress.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.