BACKGROUNDER: Keeping Union Ballots Secret

February 16, 2011

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Written by Craig Ladwig   
For immediate release (633 words)

(Jan. 28, 2011) — Some years ago, an Indiana congressman in casual conversation with a manufacturer asked when his district might see a new plant built here. The manufacturer, putting a hand on the congressman’s shoulder, replied, “I’m sorry, but we no longer invest in heavily unionized states.”

The exchange reflected a historic shift in labor relations. American unionism has become an anachronism. The penalties it inflicts in lost productivity and operational inflexibility, not to mention profitability, are simply too high — for both management and workers.

Migration data released last month from the 2010 U.S. Census confirm that, with the 10 states losing congressional seats having a unionized rate of 16.7 percent and those gaining seats only a 9.7 percent rate. Capitalism is no longer at war with labor unions, it is fleeing them — and pulling our jobs out of union states like Indiana.

It is likely, then, that the Legislature will be asked to pass measures that make it easier to trap our remaining companies in unwanted labor and arbitration agreements. Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago Law School, describes that effort as twofold:

“The first blow comes from allowing a union to substitute, at its option, a card-check selection for the current secret ballot elections in recognition disputes. The second blow is the introduction of compulsory interest arbitration that authorizes a panel of arbitrators under a set of procedures as yet to be determined to hash out an initial two-year “contract” — i.e. arbitral award — binding on the parties, who have no recourse to judicial review.”

Epstein warns that such a change in labor law, one proposed by the Service Employees International Union and others, would usher in an era of “dictatorial” union power in any state abiding it.

Investors looking long term understandably prefer to put their money in states where such unionism is either weak or non-existent. Workers, too, when treated fairly and honestly by management, freely choose to avoid union organization when their vote is secret.

Again, the numbers could not be clearer. Today, only 7.6 percent belong to unions compared with nearly 33 percent a hundred years ago. The United Auto Workers had lost over 500,000 dues-paying members between 2000 and the onset of the current recession.

In general, unions win only about half their elections of affiliation. And at that rate they cannot make up for members lost in attrition, cutbacks and plant closings.

Union leaders hope that removing the secret ballot so they can more easily force employers to arbitration will give them a powerful weapon to stop or even reverse this trend. The weapon, of course, is coercion, implied if not actual. They will not give up on this effort; their survival depends on it.

Their proposal is akin to the “elections” in South America where voters show their ballots to an official before dropping them into the box.

There are better ways, of course. Here’s one:

“The right to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. If any Indiana or federal law requires or permits an election for any designation or authorization of employee representation, the right of any individual to vote by secret ballot in any such election is guaranteed.”

That’s the language of a model joint resolution being studied this session by a loose-knit group of conservatives in the Indiana Senate. It would allow voters to amend the state Constitution to ensure ballot secrecy here. The wording is similar to that in referendums recently approved in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah (states, incidentally, outpacing Indiana in job growth). It passed with 60 percent of the vote in two of those states, with 79 percent in another and with 86 percent in another. Citizens in California, Florida, Mississippi and Ohio are planning similar initiatives on the 2010 ballot.

And in Oklahoma, a competitor for Indiana jobs, they recently passed a right-to-work bill similar to one filed here this session by Rep. Wes Culver.

“I think a recent Wall Street Journal editorial sums up our argument,” says Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City). “Americans want workers to be able to join a union if they freely choose one, but only when they are organized through honest, democratic elections. Ditto for Hoosier workers.”

We should be ashamed that even needs to be said in a state and country born of individual liberty.

— Craig Ladwig, editor
cladwig@inpolicy.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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