Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, in his ninth congressional term, is the Republican leader of the House.
American workers are stressed out. Too many are wondering from one day to the next whether their jobs will be there a year from now, or even a month from now. Costs of healthcare and a college education are spiraling. Values of 401(k)'s are falling. And middle-class families must cope with rising costs of everything from food to energy.
During times like these, our nation's leaders have the responsibility to advance policies that help ease burdens on workers and their families. But one proposal on a legislative "fast track" in Washington will only compound problems for millions of Americans in the workplace. This proposal won't impact their paychecks or benefits but rather a fundamental right every American takes for granted: the right to a secret-ballot election.
The cleverly titled Employee Free Choice Act has long been the top priority for organized labor, one of the Democratic Party's chief special-interest allies and campaign contributors. After years of declining membership and influence, Big Labor sees this as the last, best hope for stabilizing its rolls and remaining a lobbying force in Washington, our state capitals, and our city halls.
Republicans support Americans' rights to unionize freely, and that is why we oppose this antiworker legislation. Contrary to its title, the Employee Free Choice Act actually would strip workers of free choice in union organizing elections, federally supervised by the National Labor Relations Board for decades. Instead, it would leave them open to coercion and intimidation—from either union officials or company management—to sign or not sign a card expressing their desire to join a union. It's commonly called a "card check." In other words, rather than allowing an employee to make this critical choice in secrecy, the act would end workers' right to privacy, making "votes" completely and utterly public, for all coworkers, union organizers, and employers to see.
With the Democratic Party now in power on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, its Big Labor allies are pushing hard for speedy votes in Congress on this decidedly undemocratic bill. And if Congress clears the legislation, it will be received warmly at the White House. Before an organized-labor audience during the campaign, President Obama promised that "I'll make it the law of the land" after his election. The irony should not be lost on anyone, of course, that President Obama resides in the White House because of a secret-ballot election—just as all 535 members of the United States Congress hold their offices thanks to the secret ballot.
The irony doesn't stop there. Some of the legislation's most ardent supporters have spoken passionately in favor of secret-ballot elections—but only when it serves their interests. Take, for example, a 2001 letter sent to Mexican officials by Rep. George Miller of California, sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. Before a union election in Mexico, Miller and other congressional Democrats wrote, "We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required, by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that 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."
Or consider a 2001 NLRB brief filed by the AFL-CIO. In it, the labor organization defended the use of a secret ballot in union decertification elections—in which employees choose whether to opt out of a union—stating that a secret ballot "provides the surest means of avoiding decisions which are the result of group pressures and not individual decisions."
Or how about the words of Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, when she refused to identify whom she would support in an internal Democratic contest last year to determine the chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee? She noted, "It's a secret ballot, thank the Lord."
Such doublespeak underscores what is really at play here. This legislation is not about workers' rights. It's about meeting the demands of special-interest allies who helped Democrats take control of Washington. As middle-class Americans face growing challenges at work and at home, we need both parties working together on their behalf—not one party working to complicate their lives even further by ending the fundamental right to privacy in the workplace.