House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.


Fact Sheet

July 30, 2009

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

A Tale of Two Labor Bills: How Republicans and Democrats Differ on Workplace Democracy

One of the most heated debates in Washington this year has surrounded the “card check” bill, legislation that would effectively do away with secret ballots in workplace organizing elections. Officially called the Employee Free Choice Act – a misleading name for legislation if ever there were  one – the proposal illustrates an unfortunate partisan divide that places Democrats on the side of union bosses, a powerful political ally. In response, Republicans have championed alternative legislation – the Secret Ballot Protection Act – that is designed to permanently protect workers’ rights and defend against the job-killing, privacy-ending elements of EFCA.

The Employee Free Choice Act: Ending Secret Ballot Elections in the Workplace, Making a Worker’s Private Vote Public

The right to a private ballot is the cornerstone of our democracy.  For centuries, Americans have fought for the right to vote…and the right to keep that vote to themselves. Now, congressional Democrats – themselves elected in secret ballot elections – are preparing to strip men and women of their right to a private ballot in the workplace. What could be more undemocratic than that?

The Employee Free Choice Act – Providing Employees Anything BUT Free Choice

  • Contrary to the implication of its title, the bill would strip workers of their right to privacy in union organization elections. In other words, it would strip them of free choice.
  • The so-called Employee Free Choice Act would effectively kill private voting rights and make workers’ votes public through a mandatory card check, in which union bosses gather authorization cards signed by workers purportedly expressing their desire for a union to represent them.
  • Such mandatory card checks deny workers the right to choose – freely and anonymously – whether to unionize. In doing so, card checks notoriously leave workers open to coercion, pressure, and outright intimidation and threats. 

Forced Government Contracts – Just Another Way to Deny Workers’ Rights

  • Under current law, unions and management must begin negotiating on a first contract once a union is formed. Both sides are required to bargain in good faith, with penalties for those that don’t.
  • Under EFCA, negotiators have just 120 days to reach agreement on a raft of notoriously complex issues – everything from wages and benefits to job duties and subcontracts. If they cannot reach agreement within this arbitrary timeframe, a federal bureaucrat can step in and impose a contract for the first two years.
  • Neither workers nor employers have the right to approve – or reject – this federally imposed contract. Never mind if the bureaucrat writing the rules knows nothing about a particular business or its workers’ needs.
  • The threat of binding arbitration encourages bad faith negotiating; why come to the table with a serious offer when you can make unreasonable demands and bank on a federal bureaucrat “compromising” somewhere in the middle?

Hypocrisy Runs Rampant Among Those Aiming to Kill Private Voting Rights

  • A 2001 letter sent by Rep. George Miller – the Education and Labor Committee Chairman and lead sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act – and 15 other Democratic Members of Congress to Mexican – yes, Mexican – officials, stated, “We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they may otherwise not choose.”
  • Labor leaders have expressed support for secret ballot elections when workers are presented the opportunity to decertify a union at workplace. Unions have argued passionately to the National Labor Relations Board that private ballots “provide the surest means for avoiding decisions which are the result of group pressures and not individual decisions.” If it’s good enough for rejecting a union, why isn’t it good enough for workers facing pressure to form one?

There is NO COMPROMISE When It Comes to Workers’ Rights

  • Recent news coverage indicates that Senate Democrats are concocting an alleged “compromise” version of card check. While details remain sketchy, the overall concept is clear – this sudden commitment to conciliation is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to enact controversial workplace changes to benefit a favored political constituency.
  • One version of a “compromise” would eliminate the card check component of the legislation and replace it with some other restriction on private voting. For example, there are proposals for mail-in ballots (card check via the Post Office), warp-speed elections, limitations on employers’ right to communicate with their workers, and mandatory access to the workplace for union organizers.
  • Each of these proposals is a transparent attempt to salvage this unpopular proposal from the defeat it deserves. This political motive is especially clear, given that Democrats insist on maintaining the inclusion of forced government contracts, one of the most anti-worker, anti-job components of the legislation.

The Secret Ballot Protection Act: Guaranteeing Free Choice With the Privacy and Protection of a Secret Ballot

The secret ballot is a hallmark of our democratic society. It guarantees that individuals can vote their conscience, free from public pressure, coercion, or the threat of retribution. The secret ballot is vital to individual freedom – and yet it is under assault.

The Problem

American workers in particular are seeing their right to a secret ballot erode. Under current federal labor law, when a union attempts to organize a workplace, workers ultimately choose whether or not they wish to be represented through a private, federally supervised secret ballot election. However, in a minority of organizing efforts, businesses and unions decide not to use the secret ballot, allowing workers to be organized by the far more troubling “card check” method.

Under a card check, union organizers ask workers to publicly declare whether or not they support a union by asking them to sign an authorization card. When a simple majority of workers have been convinced – by their free choice or not – to sign a card, the union is automatically certified. Workers are not able to vote by secret ballot.

There is a move afoot in Congress to impose mandatory “card check” recognition for all workplace organizing efforts. That means workers will never again be guaranteed the right to a secret ballot election; instead, as the legislation makes clear, a union will be recognized as soon as a majority of workers have been publicly convinced to sign the cards. Legislation is needed to reverse this dangerous trend, and to create a firewall against the radical “card check” movement that would permanently eliminate secret ballots in the workplace. That legislation is the Secret Ballot Protection Act.

The Solution

The Secret Ballot Protection Act ensures that no one – not unions, not companies – can deny workers the right to a secret ballot. The legislation is simple, but vital. It guarantees that all future workplace organizing drives will be resolved with the protections of a secret ballot. Rather than subjecting workers to intimidation and possible retribution that could come from a “card check” process, a federally supervised secret ballot election will be guaranteed.

It has been estimated that “card check” legislation would disenfranchise 105 million American workers. The Secret Ballot Protection Act would defend these workers and ensure the secret ballot remains the standard for protecting workers’ rights.

# # #