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Four out of five people surveyed support secret ballots in union-organizing elections, according to a new conducted for the National Retail Federation by Worthington, Ohio-based BIGresearch.
The nationwide survey of 8,667 U.S. adults, conducted March 31 through April 7, found 81.8 percent of those polled believe a vote should be kept secret whenever an individual has the right to vote on something, according to NRF.
When asked about legislation pending in Congress that would effectively take away the right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections, 81.4 percent said votes on joining a union should be kept secret. Among non-union individuals surveyed, 81.3 percent said such votes should be kept secret, while 83.9 percent of those in union households felt the same.
"These numbers tell us the vast majority of Americans believe the secret ballot is a cornerstone of democracy and is just as important in a union election as it is when voters choose a president or member of Congress," NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin said. "What's especially revealing is that union members hold that belief even more strongly than people who don’t belong to a union. Union leadership might want to do away with the secret ballot, but rank-and-file workers want their votes kept private."
In 2007, Washington-based NRF and other business groups formed the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace to coordinate efforts to educate the public and lawmakers about the measure, and NRF heads the coalition's lobbying committee. In addition, NRF last year launched the Private Ballot Resource Center to provide information about the bill and its potential impact on the retail industry
The survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent, was conducted as Congress is preparing to debate the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would eliminate the National Labor Relations Act requirement that union representation be decided in secret ballot elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, the NLRB would be required to recognize a union if presented with signed authorization cards from a majority of workers. Under the legislation, union organizers would oversee the process, effectively eliminating the employer from the election proceedings, NRF said in a statement.
"Replacing the secret ballot with a process where a union can be formed simply by signing membership cards would subject workers to intimidation and coercion on an unprecedented scale," Mullin said. "The only way to guarantee workers a truly free choice on whether to join a union is to continue letting them make that decision in a voting booth and not with someone looking over their shoulders to see whether they sign a union card.
"Many retailers and retail workers don’t think this legislation affects them because their stores aren't unionized," Mullin continued. “But card check is a shortcut to forming unions where they haven’t existed before, and this bill is a top priority for organized labor as they try to boost sagging membership. They are targeting retail and other traditionally non-union industries, and whether you like unions or not, our industry simply can't afford the increased costs and rigid work rules that come with unionization, especially in the middle of the worst economic climate in decades. Passage of this legislation would drive up costs for retailers, and that would mean higher costs for consumers."
The legislation would cut off negotiations over first union contracts if an agreement had not been reached in 120 days, instead requiring the parties to engage in binding interest arbitration. Government officials would be given power to set wages and employment conditions.
On that issue, the survey found that 62.2 percent believe a company and union should be allowed to negotiate over a contract until an agreement is reached, while only 5 percent believe the government should decide, if the company and union can't reach an agreement. This sentiment was significantly stronger among those in union households, with 74.5 percent saying the company and union should be allowed to take as long as necessary and 4.6 percent saying the government should step in. Among non-union members, 60.3 percent said the company and union should be allowed to continue to negotiate, while 4.9 percent supported government intervention.