Our guest blogger is Nick Bunker, Special Assistant with the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last week, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R) further revealed his anti-worker worldview when he stated his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act because some businesses might have to accept unions they don’t want. Paul’s statement is not surprising given his past comments on workplace issues. Unfortunately, ballot initiatives in four states are trying to implement Paul’s vision for a businesses veto over unions.
The initiatives, on the ballot in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and Utah, claim to protect workers’ rights by amending the state constitution to guarantee the “right to a secret ballot” in elections for employee representation. Here is the language from the Arizona’s Prop. 113:
SECTION 36. THE RIGHT TO VOTE BY SECRET BALLOT FOR EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATION IS FUNDAMENTAL AND SHALL BE GUARANTEED WHERE LOCAL, STATE OR FEDERAL LAW PERMITS OR REQUIRES ELECTIONS, DESIGNATIONS OR AUTHORIZATIONS FOR EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATION.
In reality, these initiatives are not about protecting workers — if they were they would prevent management from intimidating workers from making a free choice whether to join a union. Instead, they are an attempt at preempting the strengthening of unions through the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that passed in the House in previous Congresses, but has failed to secure 60 votes in the Senate.
EFCA would allow workers to form a union if more than 50 percent of workers signed a card stating their support for the union. Card check unionization has been used in the past – by more than half a million workers since 2003, in fact – and unions have been formed at companies such as Cingular Wireless, Dow Jones, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Kaiser Permanente under the process.
Supporters of these initiatives claim they are only standing up for the rights of workers who would be intimidated by into voting for unionization under a card check voting system. Unfortunately for them, the record shows that management is much more likely to use coercion and intimidation, so much so that the process for joining a union is totally biased against workers. And contrary to the claims of business, majority sign up does not lead to union intimidation. A study of majority sign-up efforts at the University of Illinois found “not a single incident of union misconduct.”
Furthermore, the ability of these initiatives to preempt federal laws is even doubted by the legislative director of the National Right to Work Committee, an anti-union organization.
Behind these state ballot initiatives is the Save Our Secret Ballot campaign, a national 501(c)(4) organization that has funded efforts to put these initiatives on state ballots. The campaign has not and does not intend to disclose its donors. But if the campaign’s board is any indication, the group is funded by the usual corporate suspects. Save Our Secret Ballot’s Advisory Board includes past and present Republican elected officials and representatives of right wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Goldwater Institute.
Republican politicians have also made extraordinary efforts to get these initiatives on their ballot. Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) called a special session of the Arizona state legislature to write a new version of the initiative after the first attempt was struck down by the state courts.
While workers wait for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, state initiatives like the ones pending in Arizona and other states are threats to workers’ rights. In November, voters will have the opportunity to reject the Rand Paul view of the world and stand up for workers’ ability to advocate for a decent wage, fair treatment and a safe workplace.