Suppose you want to form a parents committee at your child's elementary school to present the concerns of parents to the school administration. To legitimately form a committee that speaks on behalf of the parents' common interests, couldn't you simply get written approval from a majority of the parents?
Or should you be absolutely required to petition the school district or local government to organize a secret ballot election before forming the committee -- an election, moreover, that the school administration could repeatedly appeal? Which should be more important: freedom of association and majority rule or cumbersome bureaucracy?
This analogy illustrates the central issue hidden by the misinformation and scare tactics of the deceptively named "save our secret ballot" campaign. In response to the proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act, Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, is advocating the drastic step of amending the Utah Constitution to decree that the only permissible way we Utah workers can form unions is through bureaucracy-laden secret ballot elections, which appeals and frivolous litigation by corporations can obstruct for years.
Wimmer, who admitted publicly that he had not even read the Employee Free Choice Act before announcing his proposal ("Utah one of states targeted in labor fight," Tribune , Dec. 30), falsely claims the act endangers Utah workers' ability to form unions by secret ballot. Wimmer's characterizations of this legislation are completely untrue.
Under current law, 30 percent of employees in a given workplace can petition the National Labor Relations Board to organize a secret ballot election on whether to form a union. If a majority of workers vote to unionize, a union is formed. The Employee Free Choice Act, a short and straightforward bill available online, in no way affects this procedure.
Under this legislation, workers could form a union through a secret ballot election, or they could form a union if a majority of employees state in writing that they want their workplace to be unionized. The act simply allows unions to be formed and recognized by simple majority rule, a fundamental principle of democracy, and gives us as workers more options when considering whether to form a union.
We need alternatives to the current system of elections, which often becomes mired in bureaucratic red tape and frivolous litigation by corporations.
This legislation would sustain and enhance current protections that safeguard the integrity and fairness of union formation. Federal law prohibits employees or corporations from coercing other employees to vote for or against unionization. Furthermore, even if a union is formed by secret ballot or direct majority rule, a petition signed by just 30 percent of employees forces a secret ballot election on whether the union should cease to exist.
Wimmer is proposing a constitutional amendment that is unnecessary and antidemocratic. It would restrict your right as Utah workers to negotiate with corporations and pursue your economic freedom. To limit our ability to determine our financial future, while the economy is faltering and unemployment is rising, is deeply troubling, especially since unions improve economic security for families.
Union workers earn 30 percent more and are 63 percent more likely to have employer-provided health benefits than non-union workers. Nationally, an estimated 53 percent of non-union, non-managerial workers--60 million people--say they would join a union now if they could. Moreover, non-union workers earn more in industries and regions with a strong union presence.
Except when absolutely necessary for the common good, government should not be in the business of taking away rights or limiting economic freedom. In these difficult times, we need more tools, not fewer, to build the future we want for our children and ourselves.
Jim Judd is president of the Utah AFL-CIO. Patrick Thronson manages Thronson and Associates Strategic Communications. Another signatory is Wayne Holland, international staff representative for the United Steel Workers.
© January 25, 2009 Salt Lake Tribune