Free Choice for Whom?

The misleadingly named “Employee Free Choice Act” (H.R 800) reaches the House floor today. This bill would essentially do away with secret ballot elections in union organizing drives by requiring the National Labor Relations Board to recognize “card check,” an organizing process whereby a union is automatically recognized as the monopoly bargaining agent for employes at a workplace if a majority of them sign union cards out in the open, exposing workers to high-pressure tactics that the secret ballot is designed to avoid. It also would mandate third-party arbitration if an employer and a union have not reached a cotract after 90 days of the union being recognized. In short, the bill would destroy workers’ right to a secret ballot in deciding whether they want union representation, and undermine freedom of contract.

The Democratic majority will likely push this through, but it faces a harder time in the closely divided Senate and, hopefully, an impossible time at the White House  Vice President Dick Cheney announced recently that President Bush would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. He should. Not only is protecting employees’ secret ballot and the freedom to contract the right thing to do, the President can gain politically from a veto.

As I’ve commented earlier, a veto would give Bush a much-needed boost among his Republican base — and the Republicans would certainly stand behind him on this. As House Education and Labor Committee ranking minority member Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R.-Calif.) writes in a Washington Examiner op ed today:

“So fundamental and so sacred is the right for every American to organize in his or her workplace that we have guaranteed and protected it through the same process we elect our commander in chief and the 535 men and women who hold the power of the federal purse.

We have become so accustomed to this democratic process, he notes, that, “some of us can’t help but take it for granted. Taken for granted, that is, until that right is taken away — and today in the U.S. House of Representatives Democrats will take a major step in their drive to do just that.” And they’re pushing this through as fast as the unions would like.

“At issue is the cleverly titled Employee Free Choice Act, legislation backed almost universally by House Democrats who have been prodded along so forcefully by organized labor interests who helped spur them into the majority that this truly unprecedented bill has landed on the House floor less than two months into the new Congress and after all of one hearing.”

It’s safe to expect House Republicans, sore at the ham-handed way the Democrats rammed this through, to support the President’s veto.