Legislation could preserve secret-ballot elections for unions

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives Feb. 17 could preserve the rights of construction industry employees to a secret-ballot process when deciding whether to be represented by a labor organization.

The Secret Ballot Protection Act of 2005 (H.R. 874) would prohibit a union from being recognized based on a “card check” campaign, in which union officials gather authorization cards signed by workers expressing their desire for the union to represent them. Employers may voluntarily recognize unions based on these “card checks,” but are not required to do so.

The new secret-ballot act is the second time Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., has proposed such legislation. A previously proposed bill died without consideration in the House last year.

Danielle Ringwood, director of legislative affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents non-union construction firms, said the legislation would combat coercion and intimidation many employees face from union bosses at the workplace.

“This is something we’re hearing across all industries, construction included,” Ringwood said. According to ABC’s website, its mission is the advancement of the merit shop construction philosophy, which the organization defines as an approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.

A statement issued by Norwood called union officials “thugs” and said many “intimidate, harass and terrorize workers who object to union membership.”

Norwood said in the statement that the right to a private vote is essential to democracy. “The lack of secret ballots is how Saddam Hussein stayed in power with 99 percent of the vote for decades,” he said.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced legislation opposing the secret-ballot act last year. The “Employee Free Choice Act” (H.R. 3619) would replace secret-ballot elections with “card check” elections.

Currently, the statutorily provided method for determining whether employees want a union to represent them is a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

The majority of the nation’s employees won’t feel the impact of the secret-ballot legislation – only 12.9 percent of workers were union members in 2004, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The construction industry currently has one of the highest percentages of union membership in the nation at 14.7 percent. The BLS expects this percentage to decline with the national average in the next few years.

Ringwood said the secret-ballot election is the only way to support employee choice.

“Our members are focused on the right of free enterprise,” she said. “It’s not necessarily a union or non-union issue.”

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at pbeeson@randallpub.com.