Alabama Unions Vs. Privacy: Organized Labor’s War On The Secret Ballot

By Matt Patterson and Crissy Brown

Tomorrow, Alabamans will have the opportunity to enshrine the secret ballot into their state constitution. A proposal before voters called Amendment 7 would “provide that the right of individuals to vote for public office, public votes on referenda, or voters on employee representation by secret ballot is fundamental.”

Union leaders are not happy. As Al Henley, president of the Alabama AFL-CIO says the measure, “is strictly to prevent unions [from] organizing.”

It doesn’t make it any harder for unions to organize. What it does is ensure union officials don’t know whether any individual worker prefers to unionize or not. Unions prefer so-called “card check” for union elections, whereby new unions can be formed with signatures from only a majority of a company’s employees on a card which union officials kindly bring right to your door.

It’s not hard to see this facilitates manipulation. Former UNITE-HERE union organizer Jen Jason testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions about how she and other union leaders went to workers’ homes to pressure them to accept union representation:

During the course of my employment with the union…I took in the ways that organizers were manipulating workers just to get a majority on ‘the cards’ and the various strategies that they employed.

Today, unions represent around 12 percent of the private U.S. labor force — down from a third in the 1950s — and about 10 percent in Alabama, the highest of any southern state.

Alabama labor leaders fear Amendment 7 would accelerate their decline statewide and nationally. Alabama’s 8.3 percent unemployment rate exceeds the national average, and some, such as Cameron Smith of the Alabama Policy Institute, suggest a freer and more open labor market could help the state attract and keep businesses such as Mercedes and Honda, which employ thousands in the state already.

But this is about more than dollars and cents. Secret ballots are the foundation upon which all free and fair elections are built. They date to at least the late 6th century B.C., when Athenians would gather on a hill outside their city to vote on all manner of public affairs to cast one of two unmarked stones into a pot — white for yes, black for no. They ensure intergrity of the ballot and protect voters from reprisal.

You wouldn’t want candidates in the voting booth with you watching whether you vote for them, and you shouldn’t have union leaders knowing whether you vote for representation, either.