Feds to Sue Arizona and South Dakota Over Anti-Union Law That Guarantees Secret Ballot Elections

The Obama Administration is gearing up to sue Arizona again.

In a letter to Arizona and three other states, the National Labor Relations Board's lawyer announced  plans to sue over state laws that guarantee the right to a secret ballot election in unionization efforts. While the letter went out to four states that have such laws, NLRB lawyer Lafe Solomon writes that the feds will only sue Arizona and South Dakota so the government can save money. Gee, how did Arizona get so lucky?

The secret ballot guarantee became a constitutional amendment in Arizona after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 113 in November's election. Essentially, it means that a company can only become unionized after a majority of the employees approve the union in a secret ballot election.

Labor unions prefer a system called "card check," in which the company becomes unionized after more than 50 percent of employees sign a form that says they want the union. Because that process isn't secret and occurs over time, instead of in one decisive election, unions know which employees aren't playing along -- and can apply pressure as needed.

In a pre-election report on Prop 113, labor unions claimed that "the measure is deceptive and written to appear to support workers' rights when it would actually force a secret-ballot election even when a majority of workers and their employer agree to skip it."

The fallacy there is obvious: If there's no secret ballot election, no one knows what the "majority of workers" actually want. If the majority of workers really wants unionization, the union has nothing whatsoever to worry about.

Democrats in Congress, many of whom take huge contributions from labor unions, attempted to pass a federal law two years ago that would have required companies to accept unionization if most workers sign the cards. The bill failed, but not before stirring up opponents who lobbied for state referendums nationwide on the issue. Arizona lawmakers, who typically never pass on any right-wing idea, passed Prop 113 to voters -- 60 percent of whom said "yes."

The feds balked after the election, saying Arizona's new law and that in three other states was unconstitutional and threatening to sue.

Federal and state officials have been talking about a possible settlement. But the April 22 letter to state Attorney General Tom Horne states that it seems impossible to avoid litigation. Lawsuits will be filed "shortly," Solomon writes.

You'd think it wouldn't matter so much, what with the card-check bill dying on Capitol Hill two years ago. But Horne tells New Times that the state plans to fight the lawsuit vigorously, in part because the Obama Administration seems bent on forcing card-check on Americans through regulatory acts instead of legislation. In other words, Obama could possibly mandate the unionization of companies through a card-check process without passing a new law.

Horne says that secret ballots are a no-brainer and that by coming out against them, "the Obama Administration is acting like the Fox News stereotype of (itself)."

Governor Jan Brewer sent a letter to the feds back in February, calling the threat of a lawsuit over this issue "unfortunate and surprisingly undemocratic."

Unlike the lawsuit over SB1070, losing this one could mean that the feds will end up metaphorically ripping something straight out of Arizona's constitution -- something that was decided fair and square in a secret ballot election.

UPDATE May 6 -- Feds follow through on their threat and sue Arizona.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern