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Intimidation Everywhere

Next week, the House will vote on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow employees in a workplace to organize as soon as a majority signed cards saying they wanted to do so. (Currently, workers have to go through NLRB-supervised elections that are prone to employer manipulation.) Opponents of card-check argue that labor bosses will just coerce employees into signing the cards, although as Ezra Klein points out, research shows that union intimidation during card-check elections is far, far less common than undue management pressure under the current system.

Anyway, the bill would potentially help organized labor reverse its long decline, but the White House has already promised to veto it, so it doesn't stand much of a chance. That didn't stop Phil Kerpen, though, from taking to the pages of the National Review to attack the legislation:

Under existing law, before a union is recognized, an employer has the right to request a federally supervised secret ballot election. This allows both the union and the employer to make their case and lets workers decide on a union without fear of reprisal.

Democrats, including congressman George Miller (Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, have historically been strong supporters of the ballot procedure. In 2001 Miller and fifteen other House Democrats wrote to a local government in Mexico: "the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose."

The first bit is rather misleading, no? Employers are very good at manipulating NLRB elections. During the campaign season, managers get to bring workers into captive audience meetings and tell them about all the horrible things that will happen if they unionize. They can make threats and bribes. They get to fire union organizers, and pay a small fine for their troubles. They can delay and delay the outcome until those employees who voted to unionize have long moved on to other jobs. And so on.

Kerpen's other point is disingenuous, and I assume he got it from Heritage talking points on the subject. I can't find George Miller's original letter, but I assume he was responding to the problem of employer-controlled unions in Mexico. According to Human Rights Watch: "Workers must publicly declare their union preference in the presence of numerous employer and non-independent union representatives and even, on occasion, hostile hired thugs." Not surprisingly, Mexican workers usually choose the company union. A secret ballot is an appropriate remedy here. In the United States, by contrast, company unions were outlawed in 1935, and workers have (somewhat) more freedom to choose independent representation. They're two entirely different cases, and Miller's not being hypocritical.

--Bradford Plumer