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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Democrats hope to torch secret ballot

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

If anyone introduced legislation wiping out your right to vote secretly, he'd be run out of town. The secret ballot is cherished, ensuring that no person, organization or government can intimidate or threaten us in the free exercise of our right to choose. For this reason, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and a raft of other supporters of the ironically named Employee Free Choice Act deserve to meet the figurative tar bucket and rail.

This dramatic change in labor law would allow workers to form a union if a majority openly signed a card in favor of union representation. Not required is an election in which workers can vote confidentially without peer pressure.

As a former union officer, I can sympathize with the bill's purpose of facilitating union organizing. As a small businessman, I don't agree with so blatantly loading the dice in favor of organized labor. ( I am repulsed by a provision that would turn over certain contract negotiations to binding arbitration, a revolutionary government intrusion into private sector labor relations.)

But those are side issues. Nothing can justify any government stripping away the protections of a secret ballot. Ludicrously, some bill supporters say it wouldn't. "It would only give workers a choice to waive that right [to a secret ballot]," said Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.). And why, pray tell, would they do that? Because, Barrow continued, it would be "the price they'd be willing to pay in order to avoid a campaign that goes along with a secret ballot election." Such goofiness is a measure of how desperate organized labor and their toadies have become in trying to deny the obvious.

When Congress returns from its spring recess, it will be challenged to uphold the cherished principle of the secret ballot, and the betting is that only a Senate filibuster stands in its way. In that, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is the deciding vote. He recently said he would vote against the bill, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said if Specter does, he would not be admitted into Democratic ranks, a move that supposedly would make it easier for the Republican to win re-election next year in the blue state.

Truth is, I wouldn't put money on anything Specter plans to do. President Barack Obama will sign the bill if it gets to his desk, but if it doesn't labor shouldn't feel bad; Obama already has bestowed bountiful blessings on it, although you might not have noticed unless you're an avid reader of the Federal Register. Almost the first thing Obama did as president was to sign executive orders that defer to organized labor's aggressive demands. The orders, reversing Bush administration policy, effectively increase the costs of taxpayer-funded projects and further complicate an already burdensome web of federal red tape.

Executive order 13502, which applies to all federal construction projects of $25 million or more, "encourages" federal agencies to require the use of controversial "project labor agreements." The philosophy behind the agreements is simple: If you can't organize an employer's shop, you can at least get your foot in the door by muscling labor agreements out of companies on a project-by-project basis. Open-shop companies would have to negotiate with whatever union shows up, even before a single employee is hired. It reduces competition for federal projects and weakens government neutrality in the bidding process. The order also mandates a study by administration officials to determine whether the agreements should be extended into other areas of government purchasing, and guess what they'll decide?

Another executive order removes a requirement that most government contractors post a notice on site of employee rights, including this important one: You don't have to be a union member to be hired. Another executive order requires a new contractor (on jobs of $100,000 or more) that is taking over a project from another contractor to hire the old employees first. The effect, again, is to make it harder for open-shop employers to compete for new contracts.

"To the victor belong the spoils," President Andrew Jackson famously said in defense of doing favors for his supporters, and it has been that way in the nearly two centuries since then; that Obama is showering boons on his supporters should surprise no one. Except that Obama, with his usual elan and growing disrespect for reality, declared these changes were done for, ahem, economy and efficiency. Aw, c'mon, Mr. President, don't insult us with your pretense. Your election has brought about a change in policies (for the worse, I'd say), but no change in the way things are done.

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