Why Card Check

Megan McCardle asks for a pro-card check argument, and Ezra responds. Robert Reich adds his thoughts here. (Briefly, since this is a somewhat obscure issue, card check refers to a kind of union election in which instead of having a single election day witha secret ballot, workers simply have to sign a card saying they want a union. If a majority of the workers sign a card, then, presto! a union.)

I’d add a few things.

Megan tosses this off in an aside, and it’s something you see all the time: “The arguments against abolishing secret elections are fairly self-explanatory; less so the arguments in favour. Obviously, there is an instrumental argument in favour of it, if you like unions, but there is an instrumental argument in favour of killing the neighbours and taking their stuff, too.”

This sets it up that the US Chamber of Commerce is nobly defending the abstract right to a secret ballot, while unions just want whats best for them. Hogwash. Big business is, in this case, defending its own interests. It doesn’t want an expansion of unionization and their sudden affinity for the rights of workers to a secret ballot is simply a smokescreen for their desire to continue the current labor law regime which makes unionizing almost impossible.

In terms of the “secret ballot” argument, I think it’s a misleading one. The fundamental value here is democracy; we want people to vote their preferences and to have the preferences of the majority transfered into policy. A secret ballot has instrumental value, insofar as it furthers these ends. In the case of a political election it’s clear that a secret ballot protects voters from recriminations from the state which might, say, send inspectors to the house of a family that didn’t vote the mayor’s way. (Even with secret ballots, putting up a sign for the wrong candidate on your front lawn can call down the wrath of city inspectors here in Chicago.)

But there are situations, town hall meetings, informal votes in clubs or other organizations, where recrimination and intimidation aren’t a real factor and we don’t think it dilutes or degrades democratic action to have votes happen out in the open. My point is that properly reflecting the will of the majority is what elections are all about. So if you were to imagine a situation in which a set of voting regulations, which included a secret ballot provision, were actually providing ample opportuntiy for intimidation and recrimination, you’d be disposed to look for alternatives that would reduce the intimidation and produce a vote that most accurately reflected the will of the majority. That’s just what’s at stake in the case of card check. The current National Labor Relations Act election process for unionizing is so drawn out it gives employers a ton of time to find out who’s supporting the union and then come up with a pretense for firing them. Opponents of card check say the new rules would allow unions to harass workers, but unions can’t do anything to workers, other than try to persuade them to join a union.

UPDATE: The Employee Free Choice Act, which would institute card check, just passed the House today.

Chris Hayes is the host of All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.


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