The misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would radically change the way workplace unionization elections operate-namely, it would eliminate the election part.  Secret ballot elections would be replaced with publicly-signed union cards, known as a “card check.”  The change is being billed by politicians as a boon to workers, but rather than afford workers any new rights, the EFCA simply robs workers of privacy and leaves them vulnerable to coercion and harassment.

Since Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) in 1935, most workplaces have organized through secret ballot elections monitored by the National Labor Relations Board. Once organizers have collected signatures from at least 30 percent of workers expressing the desire to unionize, the union submits the information to the company and requests recognition.  Companies can choose to recognize the union based solely on this card check, but more regularly request an election. 

The privacy of the secret ballot system protects workers from strong-arm tactics by either the unions or the company in question before and after a vote.  All of that would change under the EFCA.

Elections would no longer be necessary.  Instead, a union would be recognized once a majority of workers publicly signed a card supporting unionization.  In fact, once a majority of cards have been signed, holding an election would be illegal.

Dangers of the EFCA:

  • The EFCA robs workers of privacy and free speech:

    • Secret ballot elections ensure privacy by allowing workers to state his or her opinion freely and anonymously.

  • A card check does not accurately reflect the true wishes of workers:

    • Studies have shown that even with 75 percent of cards signed, a union only has even odds of winning an election.  So, many employees sign cards publicly, but vote against unionization in the privacy of the voting booth. 

  • The EFCA would leave workers vulnerable to coercion and harassment:

    • Card check ensures that union organizers know exactly who has and has not signed a union card. Since workers aren’t given an opportunity to vote “no” in card check, organizers are free to approach the same individual again and again to pressure them to change their mind.  This approach can quickly jump from simple peer pressure to outright harassment.

Workers certainly have the right to unionize.  They also have the right to a free and fair election.  The EFCA undermines this important right and leaves workers vulnerable to harassment, coercion, and other forms of abuse.  If Congress truly wants to support American workers, a good place to start is by protecting privacy in union elections.  To do anything else would fly in the face of American democracy.