Union’s Card Check is the New Jim Crow Poll Tax


By: Warner Todd Huston

One of the most odious aspects of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is the card check feature. This feature gives unions the “option” to supplant a secret ballot election held among workers for instituting a union with a publicly signed card that announces the voter’s intentions for all to see. In this way, unions claim, “elections” will be easier. Unions also point out that the language of the act still makes provision for the normal secret ballot election should all involved still so desire.

Because the act does not specifically say in plain language that the secret ballot will necessarily be eliminated in all cases, union activists and apologists claim that fears of the elimination of the ages old democratic practice of the secret ballot to assure a fair election isn’t being eliminated. They claim that opponents of this act are merely engaging in hyperbole and fearmongering by claiming the secret ballot will be a thing of the past if the EFCA is passed.

Critics rightly see this feature as a way to eliminate the secret ballot without expressly saying so, however. As varied interests as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Heritage Foundation, and sundry business groups on one hand and many of America’s newspaper editorial boards and George McGovern on the other, stand against the EFCA. Opposition to this bill has made strange bedfellows of groups often allied against each other on most other issues.

For instance, Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institute says that no matter the language of the act the secret ballot will likely be displaced by the coercive card check process in all cases. Currently, he says, a union will not call an election unless they have yes pledges from workers well in excess of 50% of the workforce. Unions know that some that say yes in public (via a pledge) will likely say no in the privacy of the voting booth. So, unions need a cushion to be assured of success after the secret ballot.

“It follows, therefore, that no rational unions would risk the election if they have in their possession authorization cards from just over 50% of the members of the unit they seek to represent.” With open ballots — the card-check system — union supporters could coerce and intimidate employees who otherwise might change their votes in the course of a campaign.

But who to believe? It is strictly true that, as the union activists say, the EFCA does not completely outlaw the secret ballot. Yet, anti-EFCA groups say that no matter what, the secret ballot will be quashed.

Even with such assumptions and assurances as Epstein’s how can we accept the claims of anti-EFCA advocates and just accept as gospel that the secret ballot will be eliminated despite that the act itself does not expressly say that it will? Why be so pessimistic?

Aside from the well over 100 year history of corruption, mob infestation, violence and intimidation that has accompanied unions in this country we can also look to another historical precedent to explain what the likely outcome of the EFCA might be. And that example is only 43 years in our past.

In 1966 the Supreme Court ruled against poll taxes in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections saying that implementing taxes on voters to allow them access to the voting booth violated the 14th Amendment. That ruling eliminated poll taxes imposed as part of Jim Crow rules aimed at disenfranchising blacks from the vote.

Essentially, a poll tax is a tax imposed at such a level that certain lower classes would be prohibited from voting because they could not afford to pay the tax in order to do so. But, cynically, these poll tax statutes never expressly outlined the true desired effect. No poll tax statute ever contained language that said “this law is to prevent Negroes from voting.” Those that crafted these laws were too smart for that.

Instead, the advocates of the poll tax could legitimately claim in wide-eyed innocence that the poll tax statute didn’t say certain people could not vote. But these same people also knew that the tax provision was high enough that poor people could not afford to pay the tax in order to vote. These crafty racists also realized that the tax mostly affected poor blacks. That being the case, the poll tax statues didn’t have to say that blacks would not be allowed to vote because the tax itself served to make that a defacto truth.

So, poll tax advocates and implementers of Jim Crow had their cake and could eat it, too. They could put on the show of innocence and claim they were not disenfranchising anyone yet still eliminate the right to vote from an entire segment of the citizenry.

This is precisely the same crafty, exclusionary, and un-American method being adopted by unions. Today, with the card check feature, unions are effectively using Jim Crow-like rules to disenfranchise millions of America’s workers from being allowed to vote, all the while being able to claim they aren’t doing so.

And there is a cruel irony in this cynical attempt by unions to destroy the oldest democratic process in western history. What does it say about labor unions, a movement that has often taken the mantle of civil rights as its own, that they are employing Jim Crow tactics to take away rights of their own potential membership?

How disheartening is it that unions are the new-age purveyors of Jim Crow rules? And how horrifying is it that the Democratic Party is once again reverting to its original intent of encouraging Jim Crow styled lawmaking?

The card check bill is un-American and must be defeated. I urge you to call your federal representatives and voice your opinion.

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