The federal legislation, pushed heavily by labor unions in Washington and the states, has been making waves in North Carolina politics, with state and federal lawmakers choosing up sides, mostly along predicable lines (Democrats in favor, Republicans opposed). The bill would among other things institute a system for union organizing that is innocuously referred to as “card check.” Rather than holding workplace elections by secret ballot, as is the current law, card check would require union organizers simply to collect enough signed cards to establish union representation in a given workplace.
The unions want to change the rules of American labor law because they’re frustrated. Union membership in the private sector has been declining for decades. To union leaders, the trend proves that the rules must be rewritten.
If you have young children or have spent much time around them at the playground, you’ve seen this behavior before. While they’re playing a given game, everything’s fine. But then a child loses, gets disappointed, and turns sullen. “That’s not fair!” he’ll scream out petulantly. You can explain that fair rules are meant to ensure that everyone gets a chance, not to ensure a particular result, but you’ll waste your time. Most kids just outgrow the phase.
Unless, that is, they go to work for a labor union.
Most Americans have no interest in joining a union, much less in being compelled to pay dues into a union whether they join or not. There’s no corporate conspiracy at work here — public-opinion surveys about unionization pretty much comport with the results of workplace elections, so the latter aren’t systemically flawed.
Many of the politicians who advocate the card-check bill would be the first to complain if a state or foreign country got rid of secret ballots. They’d properly recognize the move as a precursor to ostracism, intimidation, or corruption. But when it comes to labor elections, they appear to believe that the end justifies the means. What they’ll really get is a voting system reminiscent of Zimbabwe or Turkmenistan.
As it happens, I think the best policy for the federal government would be utter neutrality about the hows and wheres of labor organizing. Unions would be free to organize themselves in any way they wish, workers would be free to join or not to join them according to the unions’ rules, and employers would be free to recognize a union or disregard it altogether, without any governmental involvement. Workers would be free to withhold their labor if they wish, and employers would be free to terminate them and hire other workers if they wish.
Unfortunately, that’s not the system we have, nor are we likely to get it anytime soon. Under decades-old labor law, unions can use the power of government to enforce their dictates and supervise their negotiations with employers. So it becomes necessary for policymakers to have a say in setting the rules for workplace elections.
In North Carolina, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and other Republican lawmakers will speak out against the card-check legislation next month at an event in Hickory. The stakes are significant in our state, which has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the country. According to an analysis earlier this year by the Heritage Foundation, some 3.1 million North Carolina workers could lose their freedom of choice if the so-called Employee Free Choice Act were enacted into law.
And all to satisfy the personal and political interest of a few.