Just Card Checking In: Today’s Reading on H.R. 800

By March 5, 2007Labor Unions

The debate over destroying secret-ballot elections via H.R. 800, the inculcatingly named Employee Free Choice Act, takes various forms. There’s the grand philosophical and political discussion about preserving democratic principles in the workplace, and the more narrow partisan-political debate, which focuses on the connection between organized labor and the Democratic Party. Then there’s the economic question, whether forced unionization benefits individuals or the economy at large. (You also see the rhetorical angle, but with a few notable exceptions, no one pays attention to that.)

For today’s card-check reading, we first bring you Mickey Kaus, the reform-minded Democrat writing at Slate.com, who wonders at Senator Barack’s endorsement of card-check. Kaus’s column approaches the issue from a partisan-political point of view.

The idea of requiring a union, without a secret ballot election, if labor organizers can obtain a majority of “cards” from employees seems like both a big idea and a bad idea. (See below.) If Republicans were smart and confident, wouldn’t they make a big deal of this–drag the debate in Congress out to give it more prominence, highlighting Obama’s support for this change which (more than any tax cut) would alter the very texture of the economy? Voters–even many socially liberal peacenik voters–traditionally worry that if Dems gain full power they will a) serve their special interests and b) cripple American capitalism in a fit of leftish nostalgia. This bill legitimately triggers both fears.

Another insightful piece from a political perspective is this Potomac Watch column from the Wall Street Journal’s always good Kimberly Strassel.

Addressing the economic implications of the card-check legislation is Kansas City Star columnist E. Thomas McClanahan in a piece entitled, “Union mentality can be a roadblock to innovation”:

Unions tend to retard growth because it is in their interests that industries remain the same, in terms of technology. Any change can put unions in conflict not only with management but with the new innovations that make familiar products obsolete.

“Only in stagnant economies does work stay docilely within given categories,” [Jane Jacobs] wrote. “And wherever it is forced to stay within prearranged categories — whether by zoning, by economic planning, or by guilds, associations or unions — the process of adding new work to old can occur little if at all.”

It’s no accident that the companies that produce the most amazing innovations of our day are largely non-union. The process of adding new work to existing work would be retarded if entrepreneurs must face down unions whenever someone comes up with a new idea that upsets existing arrangements.

Kaus’s suggested political strategizing notwithstanding, it seems as if this issue is not dying down, nor should it. Such a direct attack on the principle of the secret ballot — and America’s genius for innovation — deserves as much disinfecting sunlight as possible.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Paul Hardy says:

    The secret ballot is only one principle of democracy. Other principles of democracy, such as freedom of expression and absence of voter coercion, are absent from NLRB elections.

    American employers may, perfectly legally, restrict the distribution of pro-union literature in the workplace, prohibit employees from discussing unionisation except during breaks, and ‘predict’ dire consequences of unionisation, including closure of the workplace and loss of jobs. No restrictions are placed on the use of ‘union-busting’ consultants, mandatory ‘one-to-one’ anti-union meetings with managers, or on anti-union election spending.

    The words of the State Department’s ‘Principles of Democracy’ primer are apt: ‘Elections alone do not assure democracy since dictators can use the resources of the state to tamper with the election process.’