Card Check: Senator Isakson Weighs In

By April 7, 2007Labor Unions

Back when labor unions were still struggling to establish themselves in the 1930s and ’40s, they argued vehemently for supervised elections and secret ballots when trying to organize a business. Only through the anonymity and confidentiality of a secret ballot could the employees who wanted to join a union be protected from any intimidation, labor believed.

Now, with the sorrily named Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor wants to do away with the secret ballot, replacing it with an intimidation-inviting “card check” process. So what’s changed?

Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) offered an explanation in an interview with host Mike Hambrick on this week’s “America’s Business,” the NAM’s weekly radio program:

Well, that’s last century stuff. Now, today, business is very competitive. Worker benefits and worker opportunity and worker environment is something every business tries to produce. That’s why the labor union population in America has shrunk to 7.4 million people in the private sector. Now, they want to take away the private ballot, as they call it, or the secret ballot, because they’re losing in terms of votes for people to unionize, and they want to try to get it public so they can have undue influence over it.

That’s quite a whipsaw, Hambrick observed, asking where the logic was. Isakson:

The logic is, anytime somebody wants it both ways, they’re generally up to no good.

As noted, Senator Isakson led the defense of democratic secret ballots during last month’s Senate committee hearing on the Employee Free Choice Act, and he knows the issue backwards and forwards.

The “America’s Business” interview is available in a separate soundfile here. To read a transcript, please go to the extended entry of this post.


America’s Business

Host Mike Hambrick

Broadcast Date: April 7, 2007

Interview with Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)

The Employee Free Choice Act

Hambrick: Senator, of course back in March, the first of March, the House passed by 241-185 the bill that will strip away the right of American workers to vote in private, in a secret ballot. Secretary Kennedy, I understand, of the committee, the HELP Committee — Health, Education, Labor and Pensions — introduced a companion bill recently. Does it pretty much mirror the House bill?

Isakson: It does.

Hambrick: And, what’s the status of that? What do you figure is going to happen with that? Where do we stand? What can we look forward to?

Isakson: Well, it’s currently in committee. There was a hearing in committee last week, which I attended and co-chaired in the absence of Mike Enzi, and it’s Senator Kennedy’s plan to get to the floor of the Senate and attempt to pass it. So, it’ going through the legislative process as we seek.

Our country’s …the fundamental foundation and strength of our country, is the secret ballot in our electoral process, and it is for the most obvious reasons. And that is, that somebody has the quiet enjoyment of peace and solitude to cast a ballot that in their heart they think is right. Anytime somebody wants to take that away from them, as far as I’m concerned, they want to unduly influence a vote, and that’s just not right.

Hambrick: Wasn’t this what organized labor initially did for workers in the first place, was to give them the right, the ability, the freedom to have a secret ballot?

Isakson: Well, you know, that’s a very interesting observation. You are correct. When labor organizations were born and began to grow, they grew as a reaction to a manufacturing, industrial and business sector that was not worker-friendly. That’s why unions grew. And unions used the secret ballot as a positive to win elections, because workers wanted representation, because business wasn’t as responsive.

Well, that’s last century stuff. Now, today, business is very competitive. Worker benefits and worker opportunity and worker environment is something every business tries to produce. That’s why the labor union population in America has shrunk to 7.4 million people in the private sector. Now, they want to take away the private ballot, as they call it, or the secret ballot, because they’re losing in terms of votes for people to unionize, and they want to try to get it public so they can have undue influence over it.

Hambrick: It turns my head. It’s a whipsaw. Say, well, wait a minute! In the last century you were fighting for this, to avoid the very thing that you’re saying exists now today, which is employer intimidation basically, with the secret ballot. So, I don’t understand the logic. I don’t understand the argument.

Isakson: The logic is, anytime somebody wants it both ways, they’re generally up to no good.

Hambrick: That pretty succinctly says it, doesn’t it?

The Vice President, in a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, on behalf of President Bush indicated that if this got as far as the President’s desk, it certainly would be vetoed. Obviously, I think you probably agree is a good thing. Why is it should we be concerned about this now, when we know it’s going to be vetoed?

Isakson: We are a representative body in the United States Senate, and we represent the people that elect us, and I think the people’s voice should be heard. If because the fact the Democrats have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and they vote along party lines and pass it, the President has clearly said he’ll veto it. And the other reason it’s important is, if we have 49 votes against it, that sends the clear message that the veto is veto proof, and it can’t be overridden, and so it will be the end of the line for this congressional session, or this legislative session.

Hambrick: So the idea of this actually becoming law is …

Isakson: I don’t think it’s going to become law, and I think it’s all about the Democrats trying to live up to a promise that they made to an element of their constituency, that they’re making their best effort, but a majority of Americans don’t think that ought to happen, and that’s why it’s not going to become law.

Hambrick: Then again, wasn’t it President Clinton who twice vetoed welfare reform before he finally was forced into dealing with? It CAN happen, can it not?

Isakson: It can happen, but those are two totally different circumstances. First of all, President Clinton was going against the grain on those first two vetoes, and finally took credit for what the people wanted and signed it. This is not something for which there is a groundswell in the United States of America. It’s kind of inside baseball issue, labor versus management.

Hambrick: Well, all right, Senator. I appreciate you taking the time to be with me. I know you’re busy on the road, and I appreciate you being on “America’s Business.”

Isakson: Great to talk to you. Thank you very much.

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