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States Make Anti-Union, Preemptive Strike Against EFCA
4 States to Debate Anti-Union Ballot Measure as Congress Stalls on Employee Free Choice Act
PHOENIX - With Washington silent for now on legislation championed by unions, the debate is playing out instead in the states.
With a measure approved Wednesday by its Republican-controlled Legislature, Arizona became the fourth state that will ask voters this year to undercut proposed federal legislation aimed at making it easier for workers to unionize. Arizona voters will decide in November whether the state constitution should require a secret ballot for workers deciding whether to create a union; South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah residents will be asked similar questions.
If passed, the secret ballot initiatives would have little immediate effect because federal law already allows employers to require a secret ballot.
Rather, the ballot measures are an attempt to pre-emptively undermine the proposed federal law known officially as the Employee Free Choice Act - dubbed "card check" by opponents.
EFCA would allow a majority of employees to create a union by signing a card. Unions say workers, not their employers, should get to decide how to form a union.
Businesses have the advantage in a union election because management has unfettered access to employees and can intimidate them by changing work schedules and assignments or threatening to fire them, said Bill Samuel, government affairs director for the AFL-CIO.
Labor laws are outdated, and employers have learned to exploit them to thwart union organizing efforts, he said.
"Employers have turned it into such an adversarial process," Samuel said. "It's no longer both sides standing up before a crowd and making their case."
Businesses say expansion of the public card-signing process would allow labor organizers to pressure workers into joining.
"You're denying them the privacy and security of the private ballot," said Glenn Spencer, executive director of the Work Force Freedom Initiative at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The issue has stalled on Capitol Hill, but businesses worry congressional Democrats will bring it up in a lame duck session after the midterm elections.
It's not clear whether the federal law would trump the states' secret ballot guarantees, and both sides agree the matter is likely to end up in court.