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So some folks will say, hey labor law sounds good, but don't the business lobbies have a point that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) proposed by labor and its supporters will undermine democracy by eliminating the secret ballot.  I'll have a post soon about how the secret ballot will be fine and more used in workplaces if EFCA passes, but let's take the basic corporate argument headon.  Under EFCA, instead of holding an election with a secret ballot, workers can also choose a union alternatively by a majority of workers signing cards asking to have their union recognized.

Horrors, the business lobby cries, weeping for the lost democratic voice of their workers (as they threaten to fire anyone who supports the union during the election), but here's the thing-- an NLRB election recognizes the union if a majority of THOSE VOTING support the union, while the card check option requires support from a majority of ALL WORKERS IN THAT COMPANY OR VOTING UNIT.  So the latter option is harder and actually is more guaranteed to reflect the will of the workers.  Follow below the fold to imagine how this would play out in a federal Presidential election.

Think of it this way, according to numbers at, Obama won a solid victory with 66,495,305 votes across the country.  But that was out of 213,005,467 total eligible voters, so Obama received only 31.2% of those who could vote.  

Let's say their was a "card check" option for the Presidency.  First, instead of having the government set up polling places in every community and manage an election, just to get those original 66 million plus votes, the Obama campaign would have had to independently pay to send cards to each voter and do far more extensive "get out the vote" work to get those cards returned.  No depending on voters just to show up at the polls in safe states and districts.  Every voter would require individual outreach.

So just duplicating the exact numbers Obama got would be more daunting under a card check Presidential system.  But getting those same numbers would still leave the campaign short.  On top of the 66 million plus votes he received, Obama would need an additional 40,007,429 legal voters (213,005,467 divided by 2 minus Obama's election total) signing cards supporting him for President.  Which means Obama would have to reach deep into the mass of non-voters-- whether apathetic, disenchanted, dispirited Republicans, or whatever -- to get those last 40 million supporters.   The resources required for that outreach would be a level truly daunting, and even the Obama machine is grateful that the government provides the easier route of elections.  But I think unquestionably, a President who could demonstrate support from an absolute majority of all eligible voters, having 106,502,734 voters state their support for them, would have a clear democratic mandate.

The fact that unions would even want the option of card check is just a testament to how awful and unfair the NLRB election system has become (a topic for another post).    

What about "coercion of workers? Yes, business lobbies claim that unions want the option so they can "coerce" voters to sign pro-union cards.  Here's a question, since such coercion is clearly illegal under present law and unions have used card check authorized under some state laws for public workers and in negotiated cases with some employers, where is the list of convicted union organizers illegally coercing workers to sign cards?  The Bush administration would have been happy to prosecute yet there are no examples.   The union "coercion" argument is a lie and red herring to justify denying labor rights just as the right's cries of "voter fraud" is their screen for voter disenfranchisement.  

The secret ballot is a useful institution and workers will retain that right under EFCA, since 30% of workers in a worksite can always demand an election and as long as a majority of workers refuse to sign cards authorizing the union, they hold onto a right to have an election instead.    But where a majority of workers recognize that they want a union and want to avoid the employer threats and coercion that accompany an NLRB election, the right to a card check option should clearly exist and is the best way to reflect the real democratic will of workers.

Originally posted to NathanNewman on Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 07:58 AM PST.

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