Secret Ballots Should be Used for Unions, Too

This op-ed column was originally published at

By Johnny Isakson

This election year, millions of Americans across the country will cast their votes for the candidates of their choice for elected office using a system that is a basic tenet of democracy: the secret ballot.

The secret ballot helps protect voters from being unfairly pressured or bullied when making these important choices, and this core principle is one agreed upon by members of both political parties.

It only makes sense that this same protection of the secret ballot should be provided to employees in workplace elections who are considering whether to join a union or not. That’s why I support the Employee Rights Act.

Rather than forcing employees to engage in union political activities when they are first hired and requiring them to “opt out” to avoid these activities, the Employee Rights Act allows them to begin their new job free from politics and “opt in” to union activities if they so choose.

Going further, if half of the workforce has turned over since the last union election, the Employee Rights Act says that employees should be able to call for a new vote.

To unionize a workplace, the legislation requires the union to get the support of a majority of all affected employees instead of just those who choose to vote. The legislation also would outlaw threats of violence by unions, would outlaw the payment of fines in a vote to de-certify a union, would require a secret ballot for a vote on whether to strike and would require employees to provide only their home address, as opposed to additional, excessive means of contact. What seem like common-sense measures for you or me, however, are not law in today’s workplace.

As recently as 2007 and again in 2009, supporters of bullying union activities who sought to do away with secret ballots introduced legislation that would change the way employees decide whether to form a union from a secret ballot election to a publicly signed union authorization card — a process known as “card check.” Moreover, this “card-check” legislation would have forced employers and employees to enter into binding arbitration and to allow a federal bureaucrat to decide the terms of their contract.

As ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, I worked hard to educate Georgians about the dangers of the “card-check” legislation between 2007-09. My committee staff and I took time to meet with hard-working Georgians and employers to have a serious dialogue about the proposed legislation and what it would mean to their workplaces. To this day, I remain committed to the right of employees to join unions, but I strongly oppose “card check” because it would offer anything but free choice for employees.

Thankfully, “card check” was never enacted by Congress and was later rejected by the American people. When Americans voted in secret ballot elections in November 2010 and elected a Republican majority to the U.S. House, the “card-check” legislation was dismissed.

We cannot let down our guards or allow “card check” to rear its head again. I support the Employee Rights Act because it would codify the basic principles sought by hardworking Americans in workplace elections in these United States. It is a commonsense measure that would prevent “card-check” elections in the future.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety.