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In a fight for worker rights, business groups and labor unions are battling over secret ballots in Virginia.
Bill would strengthen state right to work rules
© Gainesville TimesIn a fight for worker rights, business groups and labor unions are battling over secret ballots in Virginia.
State Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, has proposed a constitutional amendment to block so-called “card checks,” which streamline the way to unionization.
“We want to protect everyone’s rights from encroachment by union bosses and thugs,” Reeves told Watchdog.org.
“Let’s take away the bullying, and let people vote for what they think is right," he said.
If a union collects signed “authorization cards” from more than half of the employees in a workplace, the National Labor Relations Board can declare the union as the exclusive representative of all employees, with no election required.
Virginia AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays claims Reeves’ proposed constitutional amendment “strips workers of rights already guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act, and would face an inevitable court challenge.”
She said SJ 88 “is little more than an attempt to trick patriotic legislators who value fair elections into approving an attack on the rights of Virginia workers.”
The National Right to Work Foundation agrees with Crouse-Mays on one thing.
“The card check is part of federal law, and only Congress can fix it,” said Patrick Semmons, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based organization that opposes “closed-shop” agreements that compel union membership.
On Capitol Hill, the group supports two bills mandating worker votes: HR 972 and S. 217. Titled the Secret Ballot Protection Act, the House bill has 71 co-sponsors; the Senate bill has 27 co-sponsors. U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Norfolk, is the lone co-sponsor from Virginia.
Though the Right to Work Foundation says it doesn’t get involved in state campaigns, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce does.
“Workers have a constitutional right to a secret ballot vote without intimidation. We support it,” Chamber President and CEO Barry DuVal said of Reeves’ bill, which was recently forwarded to the Senate by the Privileges and Elections Committee.
Clayton Roberts, head of Virginia Free Enterprise Foundation, calls card checks “bad for business, bad for employers and bad for employees.
“It would be nice to preserve worker rights without having to amend the Constitution, but that might be what’s required.”
House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, R-Falmouth, is sympathetic with Reeves’ gambit, but questions its viability.
The federal “supremacy clause” generally trumps all, suggested Howell, an attorney. The U.S. Supreme Court has, over the years, upheld card-checks, sometimes called “majority sign-up.”
By going the constitutional route ― which requires approval of two General Assemblies and passage in a public referendum ― Reeves is opening a new front in an ongoing legal war.
Last September, a U.S. district judge threw out a National Labor Relations Board lawsuit challenging Arizona’s secret-ballot protection law. But the NLRB is weighing action against a handful of other states that have enacted similar statutes.
“Maybe this needs to go [back] to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Reeves says. “Let’s talk about the rule of law.”
Though Democratic Party politicians who depend on support from organized labor almost universally back card checks, there have been exceptions.
Former Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D., the party’s 1972 presidential nominee, said in 2008 that card checks “run counter to ideals that were once at the core of the labor movement. Instead of providing a voice for the unheard, [they] risk silencing those who would speak.”
The “Prairie Populist,” who died this year, cited “documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues.”
Of 24 right-to-work states ― Michigan being the most recent to join the ranks ― Virginia is one of just seven to bar collective bargaining for public employees.
Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said Virginia’s “current provisions work well, and are not creating any real difficulties.”
“Considering the magnitude of the state’s very real problems ― including funding education and transportation properly ― I should think [Reeves] has more important items to focus on than empowering the further oppression of our workforce,” Greenburg said.
Semmons said card checks are designed to push the unions’ nose under the private-sector tent – even in right-to-work states, which prevent unions from excluding non-union workers or requiring payment of union dues.
“Private-sector unions can do everything in Virginia they can do in forced unionism states except requiring employees to tender dues or fees as a condition of employment,” he said.