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It's about democracy and rights, not secret elections

By Jon Geenen

The absurdity of this is obvious. These are the same people who have fought every initiative to increase minimum wage. These are the people who provided unwavering support of NAFTA and other offshoring efforts that have decimated our manufacturing base. These are the people who worked tirelessly to defeat new health and safety regulations and environmental efforts related to cleaner water and air and safer chemicals, not to mention their vehement opposition to health care reform.

The American business community claims there is a travesty associated with the Employee Free Choice Act, and they are right. But the travesty has nothing to do with secret ballots. Like the master illusionist creating an act of prestidigitation, corporate America is undermining democracy, while at the same time pretending to be its biggest defender in the workplace.

The media efforts and the unlimited money provide a glimpse to the general public about how far corporations will go and how much they will spend to prevent workers from organizing a union. To be sure, their "democracy campaign" is a textbook strategy straight out of the union-busters handbook, complete with intensive misinformation campaigns, threats of plant closures, doom and gloom and the ostracizing and isolation of pro-union workers as un-American or out of sync with their peers. This time, rather than doing it to a worker in a plant, they are doing it to the general public.

The corporate-funded campaign attacks EFCA as undemocratic and warns that if passed into law, workers would lose access to a secret ballot election as a way to determine majority status for union representation. There is one problem with that. Workers absolutely would be entitled to a secret ballot election under EFCA.

EFCA would not prohibit or otherwise limit the use of the secret ballot. What it would do is say that the decision for workers about how and whether to form a union is a decision that is left workers - not to their bosses.

These opponents also would have you believe that somehow signing your name on a card to indicate your interest in a union is somehow a new or novel approach to organizing. There is a problem with this, too. That is how it works today and, for the most part, how it has worked since the 1930s. In order for workers to gain collective bargaining rights, workers always have had to demonstrate majority support. Signing cards or providing signatures is the first step in forming a union.

So what really would change with EFCA? Employees alone would decide how to show majority status in a unionization campaign. Why does corporate America really care? Because their ability to "intervene" becomes limited. You see, even though many progressive employers recognize unions by the card check method today, those that don't know that by demanding a National Labor Relations Board election, they gain 42 precious days to run an anti-union campaign where they can fire, demote, coerce, threaten and intimidate workers with little consequence and effectively block workers' attempts to (ironically) democratize the workplace. Under EFCA, employees would be more likely to have made that decision before the boss finds out, making the matter a decision for workers and workers alone as the Wagner Act originally envisioned.

Unfortunately, business knows what we all know: that except for the small minority of people who are simply philosophically opposed to unions, the rest of us believe, whether we belong to a union or not, that the right to unionize is a critical component of a democratic society. Democracy does not and cannot exist where strong and independent trade unions do not exist. In our country, the rise and fall of personal rights and liberty have paralleled the rise and fall of the labor movement. Why? Because the labor movement is a unique social movement that lends its voice to all working families, uniting the masses. This is what corporate America fears but doesn't dare say - because that truly would be undemocratic.

The so-called democracy card is simply a red herring.

Jon Geenen of Kaukauna is an international vice president with the United Steelworkers.

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