Big labor ignores a basic freedom of Democracy

"Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?" Teamsters President James Hoffa recently demanded. He callously dismissed this cornerstone of American self-government that helped emancipated slaves vote after the Civil War and has decided presidential elections since Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison in 1892.

Hoffa and other union bosses, egged on by Democrats from Capitol Hill to the White House, display world-class hypocrisy, violate international labor standards, and contradict their own sales pitch as they desperately promote "card-check" legislation to drive secret ballots from union-authorization elections.

Once a majority of workers at a labor-targeted institution signs cards showing interest in unionization, rather than trigger a secret-ballot election (as happens today), those cards automatically would impose union-monopoly representation on every worker, including those who never signed cards. Imagine a candidate with a majority of voters’ signatures on his qualifying petition. Suddenly, November’s secret-ballot election is cancelled, and he instantly becomes congressman.

Big Labor wants such absurdity in federal law via the sarcastically named Employee Free Choice Act. Critics rechristened EFCA the Employee Forced Choice Act.

While union bosses disdain secret ballots at America’s workplaces, they typically require them for internal elections.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ 2006 constitution invokes secret ballots 29 times. "All voting shall be by secret ballot," it mandates for picking top officers including General President, Hoffa’s title.

In choosing convention delegates, the Service Employees International Union’s 2008 constitution says, "arrangements may be made at the option of the Local Executive Board for nomination and secret ballot election."

"The election of Local Union Executive Officers shall take place by secret ballot during May and June," states the United Auto Workers’ 2006 constitution.

Big Labor’s hostility to secret ballots violates planetary benchmarks. The Geneva-based, U.N.-affiliated International Labor Office sets global labor standards. Its 2006 guidebook, "Freedom of Association," states: "The existence of legislation which is designed to promote democratic principles within trade union organizations is acceptable. Secret and direct voting is certainly a democratic process and cannot be criticized as such." Regarding strike votes, ILO also praises conditions "with the workers enjoying the safeguard of a secret ballot."

While American labor pushes workers’ rights below U.N.-guidelines — as F. Vincent Vernuccio recently noted in the Washington Times — Mexico’s Supreme Court in 2008 unanimously endorsed secret ballots in union-representation elections. Mexico’s National Association of Democratic Lawyers calls secret ballots "an essential element for respecting workers’ rights and for the democratization of unions and the country itself."

Big Labor and its Democratic allies have pressed secret ballots in Mexico while pummeling them here. "Why can’t Mexican workers have the right to secret ballot elections to vote for any union?" then-UAW president Stephen Yokich asked Mexico’s former president Vicente Fox in July 2001. The UAW, naturally, would deny American workers this right.

"We are writing to encourage you to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections," 16 House Democrats argued in an August 2001 letter to Mexican authorities. This letter’s signers who remain in Congress back card-check, including EFCA sponsor Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.).

So, why do union bosses fear secret ballots? They complain that anti-labor CEOs intimidate workers during union-organizing elections, even as card-check campaigners spook employees.

Labor chiefs also promise the moon. "I can’t think of a better way to restore stability to middle-class families than to strengthen unions," Hoffa stated March 10.

If they really can transform a factory into a workers’ paradise — especially during a recession — unions should welcome secret ballots. Absent management intimidation, workers finally would vote for labor’s cornucopia.

If workers could choose this bounty while keeping employers oblivious, unions should applaud. Conversely, why should anyone trust someone who says, "Vote for me, but only in public, so we’ll know if you picked wisely"?

Rather than debate the merits of labor versus management, card-check opponents should make union bosses explain how their reforms are irresistible, yet simultaneously vulnerable to secret ballots.

(Deroy Murdock is a columnist and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)