The Obama Administration and its nominee for Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, are seeking to all but eliminate the secret ballot in union elections, a move called "card check" in congressional shorthand.
As the Administration and the Congress contemplate one of the most dramatic changes in labor law in the past 50 years, it would be instructive to look at a similar debate raging in Mexico.
Mexico's highest court, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, last year unanimously ruled in favor of secret votes for workers considering which union could represent them in collective bargaining agreements. While Mexico's labor law differs from that in the U.S., any step to safeguard workers' freedom and privacy is a great advance in an economy long bedeviled by measures that destroyed jobs while strengthening unions.
Mexico's highest court affirmed a lower court ruling which cited as justification for their decision the United Nation's Universal Human Rights Declaration and Convention number 87 of the International Labor Organization. The declaration and convention established that secret ballots permit employees to exercise democratic principles while open voting allows for undue pressure and coercion. The National Association of Democratic Lawyers, a group of labor lawyers, academics and labor organizations in Mexico, called the secret ballot "an essential element for respecting workers' rights and for the democratization of unions and the country itself." Democratization and the secret ballot have always been the hallmark of worker freedom and protecting the rights of workers to organize. Mexico is the latest example of other nations following America model for a free and fair workplace-ironically, just as the Obama Administration seems to be abandoning it.
Hilda Solis, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Labor is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, who became a union shop steward. No doubt he educated his daughter on the struggles of the Mexican workplace and would have longed to see this day when Mexicans could freely decide to join a union without coercion. Until the card check movement of the Orwellian-named "Employee Free Choice Act," Solis herself fought for the rights of workers to vote by secret ballot. In 1997 while she was a California state senator, Solis introduced a bill mandating "only secret ballots may be cast by affected employees at any election held pursuant to [adopting or repealing an alternative workweek schedule for overtime.]"
Similarly, on August 29, 2001 sixteen members of Congress, including fourteen Democrats, encouraged the Mexican Junta Board of Conciliation and Arbitration to "use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections." Reps. George Miller, Barney Frank, Dennis Kucinich, Pete Stark, James McGovern and others signed that letter.
The National Labor Relations Board, in the United States, has protected American workers from the coercion that takes place without a secret ballot. Currently if just 30% of workers in a business express an interest in union representation, the NLRB supervises a secret ballot election.
If card check is enacted the privacy of the voting booth will be exchanged for a public signature drive run by union activists. Union officials would be free to knock on a worker's door any time of the day or night to collect signatures. Chillingly, they will know who refuses to sign. Jan Janson, former UNITE-HERE organizer testified at a congressional hearing that she had "personally heard from workers that they signed the union card simply to get the organizer to leave their home and not harass them further."
Mexico should be proud of their achievement protecting workers' right to a secret ballot. Unfortunately while Mexico is a taking a step forward, Obama's America is poised to make a giant leap backward.
Does President Obama and the Democrat-led Congress really want American workers to have fewer rights than Mexicans?