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The Boston Globe

Politics

SCOT LEHIGH

Where do Democrats stand on card-check legislation for unions?

Has card check become the policy that dare not speak even its new name? For years, the Democratic Party platform vowed the party would push to pass the “Employee Free Choice Act,” which is the nifty new title unions had given their tired old card-check plan.

Under the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check, a company would be compelled to recognize a union when a majority of employees signed authorization cards or forms saying they wanted a particular union to represent them. Currently, the National Labor Relations Board schedules a secret election when 30 percent of employees sign up.

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Now, given that a secret ballot is as good as it gets when it comes to electoral fairness, union motives are pretty self-evident here. Under card check, an organizing campaign could be run in an under-the-radar way, without management necessarily discovering what was afoot, or offering counter arguments, until it was too late. Second, pressure from peers and union organizers might well secure the signatures of people who, on a secret ballot, wouldn’t vote to unionize. Efforts to push card check, to which businesses object mightily, went nowhere in Obama’s first term, even when Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress.

This time around, the party hasn’t explicitly renewed its commitment to the top union priority. Instead, the party manifesto says that the Democratic Party “will fight for labor laws that provide a fair process for workers to choose union representation.”

The platform doesn’t spell out precisely what that means. It should. Current law certainly should be strengthened to protect pro-union workers against intimidation or retaliation during or after organizing campaigns.

But if Democrats still support card check, they have put a union priority over the secret ballot, which is the gold standard for free elections. If so, they should at least have the courage of their convictions and say so. Voters, businessmen among them, have a right to know.

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