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Employee Free Choice Act,
If Approved, Will Affect Us All

If you were watching the last Presidential debate, you might have noticed this video we feature below from former Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern:

This speech echoed a column that Senator McGovern wrote in The Wall Street Journal two months ago:

As a congressman, senator and one-time Democratic nominee for the presidency, I’ve participated in my share of vigorous public debates over issues of great consequence. And the public has been free to accept or reject the decisions I made when they walked into a ballot booth, drew the curtain and cast their vote. I didn’t always win, but I always respected the process.

Voting is an immense privilege.

That is why I am concerned about a new development that could deny this freedom to many Americans. As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor.

The legislation is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and I am sad to say it runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak.

The key provision of EFCA is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a workplace or bargaining unit, a system known as “card-check.” There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.

Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal.

There’s no question that unions have done much good for this country. Their tenacious efforts have benefited millions of workers and helped build a strong middle class. They gave workers a new voice and pushed for laws that protect individuals from unfair treatment. They have been a friend to the Democratic Party, and so I oppose this legislation respectfully and with care.

To my friends supporting EFCA I say this: We cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret-ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.

Some of the most respected Democratic members of Congress — including Reps. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, George Miller and Pete Stark of California, and Barney Frank of Massachusetts — have advised that workers in developing countries such as Mexico insist on the secret ballot when voting as to whether or not their workplaces should have a union. We should have no less for employees in our country.

I worry that there has been too little discussion about EFCA’s true ramifications, and I think much of the congressional support is based on a desire to give our friends among union leaders what they want. But part of being a good steward of democracy means telling our friends “no” when they press for a course that in the long run may weaken labor and disrupt a tried and trusted method for conducting honest elections.

While it is never pleasant to stand against one’s party or one’s friends, there are times when such actions are necessary — as with my early and lonely opposition to the Vietnam War. I hope some of my friends in Congress will re-evaluate their support for this legislation. Because as Americans, we should strive to ensure that all of us enjoy the freedom of expression and freedom from fear that is our ideal and our right.

The bill Senator McGovern is criticizing is the national version of a bill that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger just vetoed in California. The Western Growers Association had been pushing for this veto and had this to say when the news came out:

Western Growers has just learned that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed AB 2386 (Nunez, D-Los Angeles) — “card-check” legislation.

“We are very pleased Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed this bill, as it would have curtailed farmworkers’ rights to cast union ballots in a secure, private manner,” Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif said. “Everyone has the right to cast a ballot, be it for the President of the United States or to certify union representation, free of coercion and intimidation. We applaud the governor for recognizing this very basic right and vetoing this bill.”

In 2007, Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 180 and SB 650 (Migden, D-S.F.), which was also aimed at allowing “card check elections.” Since its passage more than a month ago, Western Growers, along with other agricultural interests, inundated the governor’s office with calls, letters and e-mails urging the veto of AB 2386.

We think Western Growers Association and its President and CEO Tom Nassif as well as Board Chairman Bob Gra deserve some hearty applause for taking on this issue. There is a temptation among produce industry associations to keep their powder dry for “ag specific” issues. Very often, though, the issues that will have the most impact on business are of a more general nature.

This bill, with an Orwellian name of Employee Free Choice Act, will deny prospective union members the right to a secret ballot. Instead, a union would be authorized based on a majority filling out a card in full public view. This is both anti-democratic and highly likely to lead to intimidation.

Senator Obama is co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate. Senator McCain is opposed. It is a very important issue.

Here at the Pundit we don’t endorse Presidential candidates and, in any case, few people vote just on one issue. Perhaps even if Senator Obama wins he can be persuaded to change his mind on thia bill. Or the Senate might be persuaded to block the law. But whoever wins the election, we hope that the industry will join an effort to defeat this bill on a national level just as Western Growers Association did so effectively in California.

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