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Policy: Labor

Union president says secret ballot best way to avoid coercion

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Analysis,Card Check,Boeing,Seattle

In a letter to members Thursday, a major union president said that secret ballot elections were the best way to ensure that voters were "free from any coercive or disruptive circumstances." The stance contradicts Big Labor's push in recent years for so-called card check workplace organizing elections, which would largely do away with secret ballots.

Tom Buffenbarger, president of the 720,000-member International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, made the statement in a Boeing_letter.pdf">Thursday letter to members of his union's Seattle branch, District 751. The main purpose of the letter was to overrule a decision by District 751 leadership and order a Jan. 3 vote on a proposed Boeing contract.

In the letter, Buffenbarger said:

I have requested the voting process be conducted in a manner that enables the fullest participation of the membership. Voting is to be free from any coercive or disruptive circumstances. A secret ballot process must be provided. No local lodge officers other than those specifically authorized by the IAM Constitution or District Lodge business representatives are to handle any ballots other than their own.

The statement is notable because Buffenbarger previously endorsed the Democrats' Employee Free Choice Act, the main card check legislation introduced in Congress. He went so far as to say that the bill should be renamed the "Civil Rights for Employees Act."

Under current law, unions seeking to organize a workplace can gather a majority of employee signatures and then present them to management to demand recognition. Management can then either agree to allowing a union or call for a federally monitored secret ballot election. The election's purpose is to ensure that the signature collection process, which would have been done in public, is free from any coercion, deceptive practices or other shenanigans.

EFCA would have allowed unions to skip the federally monitored election even if management insisted on it and get automatic recognition once they had a majority of signatures. Big Labor wanted the law badly and was hopeful that the Obama administration would push it through Congress. It stalled instead.

So how does Buffenbarger square that with his call for a secret ballot when it matters to his union? He could not be reached for comment.

IAM is not exactly a model of democracy itself. This is the same union where, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, "[n]o candidate opposing incumbent (national) leaders and their allies has won enough endorsements to get on the ballot since 1961."

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