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Barrow backs card check
04.10 barrow
U.S. Rep. John Barrow spoke in Savannah on Tuesday about the Employee Free Choice Act. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The hotly-debated Employee Free Choice Act won’t automatically strip away the secret ballot in union certification elections, U.S. Rep. John Barrow said.

Barrow (D-Savannah), who spoke at the Critical Issues Forum in Savannah on Tuesday morning, said he believes in the secret ballot process and that the proposed legislation gives workers the option not to vote by secret ballot.

“The Employee Free Choice Act doesn’t take away that right,” he said. “It gives the employees the right to waive that right. It gives them the option, if they choose, to waive their right to a secret ballot as basically the price they’d be willing to pay in order to avoid a campaign that goes along with a secret ballot election.”

Barrow said the union election process has grown to favor management too much in preventing unions from entering the workplace.

“I think the pendulum has swung too far in favor of management’s ability to avoid a fair election by the use of techniques it is the purpose of the Employee Free Choice Act to pre-empt,” Barrow said. “I would never vote to take away an employee’s individual right to choose to cast his or her ballot for union representation by a secret ballot.”

“If you know what you want to do and you want to avoid the abuses and pressures from both sides that come from a prolonged and protracted campaign, I think you should have the right to waive your right,” he added, “if you want to, so long as you don’t waive somebody else’s right. It allows a majority of employees, acting individually, to decide an election before the campaign.”

Rep. George Miller (D-California), the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, has posted on his Web site that the Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish the secret ballot process. Miller, who said the bill would make it easier to form unions, contends that it allows workers to form a union through a majority signup, if that majority does not want to go through with a National Labor Relations Board election process.

Miller, who first submitted the “card check” bill two years ago, also called “bogus” a study that estimated the Employee Free Choice Act would cost the U.S. 600,000 jobs in 2010.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is staunchly opposed to the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. According to the U.S. Chamber, The Heritage Foundation, using U.S. Census Bureau data, said that more than 4 million small businesses, employing more than 39 million workers, would be subject to the provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Tom Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the states with the highest rates of union membership also had the lowest rates of job growth. The U.S. Chamber also said that unions’ have won in workplace elections 62 percent of the time, up from 48 percent, since 1985 under the current National Labor Relations Act.

Opponents to the card check bill range from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus to former U.S. Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

“I do understand businesses’ concerns that in pre-empting a campaign, you deny them an opportunity to have a legitimate voice in the competition for representation,” Barrow said. “But part of the problem is that there are so many abuses on management’s side that this is the remedy some folks have come up with as a way of avoiding those problems.”

Barrow said the NLRB has “no teeth” to see that management isn’t abusing employees’ rights.

“Labor’s preferred remedy is to basically pre-empt the campaign that generates all these abuses and to allow employees to cast a ballot before there’s an election campaign to begin with,” he said.

“My own personal preference is there are lots of ways in which this can be amended or changed in such a way as to give a fair choice to both sides in the dispute, and that’s what Congress is working on right now.”