Ballot Bluff

The UAW's 'Principles'

Late last month, while all reasonable people were engaged in some combination of recovering from Christmas, preparing for New Years, or watching football, the UAW released its "Principles for Fair Union Elections," a pretentious document that demonstrates the extent to which denial still reigns at Solidarity House.

The 11 principles are all designed to work out to the UAW's advantage, in ways subtle and not so subtle, as it attempts to organize nonunion automakers in the United States, such as Toyota or Mercedes Benz. For instance, with support for EFCA cratering and mandatory card-check looking more and more like a pipe dream, here's how the UAW comes to terms with the fact that it will almost certainly need to win a secret-ballot vote before representing workers at any auto manufacturer outside of GM, Ford, or Chrysler:

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Secret ballot election

9. The democratic right of workers to freely and collectively choose if they want to form their UAW local union is the workers' First Amendment right. A secret ballot election incorporating these principles is an acceptable method of determining union representation if principles two through six have been adhered to, and if there is no history of anti-union activities. The parties may select an alternative method on a case-by-case basis that reflects the best process for demonstrating employee wishes. If the parties cannot agree on specifics of the procedure, an arbitrator may decide.

Got that? A secret-ballot election is "acceptable" if the employer has met the UAW's specifications, and has no "history" of opposing unionization. Otherwise, we'll have to haggle over whether or not to use card-check (a method that is vulnerable to all sorts of union abuses) and maybe we'll have to submit the whole thing to an arbitrator. Any large company is unlikely to remain union free without taking some steps to discourage organizing. One doesn't have to parse the language too closely to wonder if the UAW will ever be committed to accepting a secret-ballot vote.

This is silly. Secret-ballot votes aren't an "acceptable" method for workers to determine whether or not to unionize — they're a clearly superior method, one that allows workers to register their opinions confidentially, clearly, and with practically no risk of retribution. If the UAW wants to say that it will zealously protect its rights and will not hesitate to call for a new election where the laws or its own "principles" have been violated, that would be understandable, but there's no substitute for a secret ballot. The higher the stakes, the dirtier the campaign, the more valuable the secret ballot becomes. The UAW should simply accept that and move on.