Democracy can be messy. You find that in any number of stories about voting irregularities. For example, in Florida's 13th Congressional District, Republican Vern Buchanan won last fall by just 369 votes. Democrat Christine Jennings cried foul, noting that some 18,000 ballots were cast without a vote for either candidate. (The House of Representatives is investigating.)
Not to worry, though, because organized labor has a way to end electoral controversy: Eliminate the private ballot.
Big Labor doesn't put it that bluntly, but that's the upshot of the inaccurately named "Employee Free Choice Act," which union leaders are pushing hard before Congress. If the measure becomes law, it would change the way workers form a union. Instead of using a private ballot, union leaders could unionize a company by "persuading" a simple majority of employees to sign union cards.
It sounds simple, but consider the implications.
"Card check" gives union organizers carte blanche when it comes to persuading workers to have a union represent them. They can visit employees at their homes to try to talk them into signing up. And good luck saying "no." If union officials can't get half the company's employees to sign up the first time around, no problem! They simply revisit everyone who didn't sign. And revisit them. And revisit them. They can keep coming round, day and night -- as often as it takes to pressure the holdouts into signing.
Look what happened in 2000 when organizers tried to unionize Trico Marine, a Texas-based company that supplies materials to offshore oil-drilling outfits.
One employee in Louisiana actually had an arrest warrant issued against a union organizer after that organizer visited his home eight times. Another employee reported that union organizers shot videotape of him outside his home. He thought he was being marked for violence.
Not surprisingly, these organizers are frequently unwanted visitors. When one employee refused to answer his door, union organizers walked around his home, knocking on and peering through windows. In another case, a fight broke out inside an employee's house between the worker and the organizer who was purportedly there to help him. Sadly, the intimidation works. Some "employees volunteered that they signed cards just to stop the pressure and harassment," Labor lawyer Clyde Jacob testified before Congress.
The solution is simple: Retain the system already in place. Today, union organizers can request an election once 30 percent of a company's workers sign union authorization cards. Employees then vote by private ballot in government-supervised elections. The process is fair, because every employee can vote his or her conscience in private.
Sure, private ballots can cause problems. It would clearly reduce controversy in the Florida case, for example, if we knew for certain which candidate each voter cast a ballot for. But under card check, workers would obviously lose more than they would gain. Secrecy allows voters to make free decisions about what's in their own best interests, secure they won't be punished for expressing the "wrong" opinion.
Workers should be free to unionize. But they must make that decision on their own, not have it made for them by Big Labor organizers. Our lawmakers owe it to workers to protect their right to a private ballot.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Chicago Sun-Times