A threat to democracy at a very basic level - in the workplace - has resurfaced in Congress. It is the Employee Free Choice Act, an inappropriately named bill if ever there was one.
Last year the measure was blocked by lawmakers concerned about true freedom of choice for working men and women. But the proposal has been introduced again in Congress.
Should the bill become law, it would make changes in the rules involving labor unions and employers.
Regulations now provide for a two-tier process by which workers decide whether they want a union. If 30 percent or more of workers at a particular site sign union authorization cards, formal balloting takes place. Then, if a majority of workers vote in favor of a union, it is certified as their bargaining agent.
Taking advantage of the true free choice in the secret ballot process, many Americans reject unions. Some estimates are that as few as 7.5 percent of U.S. workers belong to them.
If the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, that would change. There would be no guarantee of secret ballot elections before a union took over. Instead, unions could be certified if a majority of a company's workers signed authorization cards - presented to them in public, quite possibly in front of groups of pro-union co-workers. Obviously, intimidation would be a factor.
Another stipulation in the bill is that if a new union could not agree to a contract with a company within 90 days, the matter could be referred to a federal mediator. If no agreement could be reached 30 days after that, the dispute would be referred to arbitration. Results of the arbitrator's decision would be binding on the union and the company for two years - even if union members disagree with them.
Former Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 1972, has been a good friend of labor unions. He has broken with them on this issue. In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, McGovern stated that the Employee Free Choice Act "runs counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, EFCA risks silencing those who would speak."
Concerning approval of unions solely through authorization cards, McGovern noted, "There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards." He added, "Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal."
McGovern has a persuasive answer to members of Congress who insist that they have to support organized labor leaders who backed them. In his opinion article last summer, McGovern put it this way: "While it is never pleasant to stand against one's party or one's friends, there are times when such actions are necessary. ... I hope some of my friends in Congress will re-evaluate their support for this legislation. Because as Americans, we should strive to ensure that all of us enjoy the freedom of expression and freedom from fear that is our ideal and our right."
The distinguished public servant is right. Members of Congress who truly want free choice for workers should vote against the dishonestly titled Employee Free Choice Act. They should stand with McGovern -for what is right.