In the presidential primaries, Americans vote in secret ballot
elections for who they want to be the Democratic and Republican
nominees. Voters can publicly urge their friends, neighbors, and
co-workers to support their favored candidate; but on Election Day,
they cast votes in private. American workers decide whether to join
a union by the same method. However, Congress is now considering a
little-known bill that would strip millions of workers of this
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would disenfranchise 105
million American workers. For union organizing elections, the
legislation would replace the secret ballot with a system of "card
checks," where union organizers pressure workers to publicly sign a
card stating they want to join a union. Workers would never have
the option of voting against union membership, and millions of
workers could be forced into a union without ever getting the
chance to vote on the matter. Congress should preserve a worker's
right to vote in privacy on union membership.
The Right to Vote in Privacy
A fundamental principle of American democracy is that votes are
private choices. Secret ballot elections ensure that voters can
choose the candidate who truly represents them, not the candidate
whom their friends or neighbors want them to support. Millions of
Americans cherish this freedom, but many Members of Congress want
to take it from American workers.
For more than 60 years, American workers have decided whether to
form a union with a private vote. When enough workers at a company
sign union authorization cards, the government supervises a secret
ballot election. Workers vote "yes" or "no" on union membership. If
a majority of workers vote "yes," a union is formed, but neither
management nor union organizers know how each individual worker
voted. The secret ballot lets workers vote their conscience without
risking job loss or physical assault for making the "wrong"
Employee "Free Choice " Act Strips
The EFCA would make it easier for union officials to pressure
workers. Under the card-check process, union organizers would
publicly solicit signatures on union authorization cards. After a
majority of workers at a company sign the cards, the union becomes
the bargaining representative of all the workers at the
Without secret ballots, union organizers know exactly who has
signed union cards and who has not. In the past, union organizers
have repeatedly approached and pressured-and, in some cases,
They have also used pro-union co-workers to solicit signatures,
putting peer pressure on "holdouts" to change their minds.
The card-check process also denies workers the right to vote
"yes" or "no" on joining a union. Workers can only vote "yes" by
signing the card. Not signing a card simply means "not yet."
Organizers are free to return again and again until they get the
result they want. That is not voting, which by definition is a
choice between two or more options.
Even the limited freedom of saying "not yet" would be denied to
some workers. Under card check, all workers in a company must join
the union after organizers collect cards signed by a majority, even
if some of those workers did not know about the organizing drive
and were never asked to sign a card. A worker has a right to
express his or her views with a ballot, even if that vote does not
change the results of the election. Card check takes that right
Disenfranchising 105 Million
The EFCA applies only to workers covered by the National Labor
Relations Act (NLRA), which does not cover government employees,
agricultural workers, the self-employed, or railway or airline
workers. The Act also excludes supervisors. Still, the EFCA would
disenfranchise 105 million American workers, which encompasses more
than two-thirds, or 68.8 percent, of the American workforce.
Chart 1 shows, by state, how many workers would lose their
right to a private vote on union membership.
Politicians Against Voting
Every major Democratic presidential candidate wants to end
secret ballots for union organizing elections. Senator Hillary
Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Barrack Obama (D-IL) voted for the bill,
while former Senator John Edwards co-sponsored the EFCA during his
time in the Senate.
Under the EFCA, millions of workers in key primary states would
lose the right to a private vote on joining a union. The act would
- 508,497 workers in New Hampshire;
- 1,540,440 workers in South Carolina;
- 3,606,930 workers in Michigan; and
- 6,652,444 workers in Florida.
Even as they campaign to win a secret ballot election, many
presidential candidates would take the right to vote away from
Few Americans are aware that many
leading presidential candidates want to take away their right to
vote privately on joining a union. The little-known and misnamed
Employee Free Choice Act would disenfranchise 105 million American
workers by replacing secret ballots for union organizing elections
with the card check system. This process would expose workers to
union pressure and intimidation, while denying them the option of
voting "no" on union representation. The President and Members of
Congress are elected by secret ballots. Congress should reject any
effort to deny workers the right to vote.
James Sherk is Bradley
Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The