"Save Our Secret Ballots" Group Includes Arizona in Anti-Labor-Union Plans to Change State Constitutions

Arizona is poised to take center stage in the debate over a proposed national law that would ban workers from voting for or against labor unions in secret ballot elections.

A group based in Las Vegas called "Save Our Secret Ballots" is preparing to defend against the proposed law -- which is supported by Barack Obama and the mostly Democratic Congress.

The group, fronted by a Republican former Congressman from Oklahoma, is pushing for state-by-state constitutional amendments that would essentially require secret ballots to be used to form or join a union at a business. The effort is kicking off in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Nevada and Utah.

Clint Bolick of the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, a conservative think-tank that recently thumped Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office, is one of the board members for Save Our Secret Ballots and wrote the proposed language for the constitutional amendment. It's just two sentences -- the first, short and innocuous, and the second, a lawyer's dream:

The right of individuals to vote by secret ballot is fundamental. Where state or federal law requires elections for public office or public votes on initiatives or referenda, or designations or authorizations of employee representation, the right of individuals to vote by secret ballot shall be guaranteed.

The group is launching a citizens initiative to put the above language before Arizona voters in the 2010 election. If voters approve it, the law will become embedded in the state's constitution.

On its Web site, Save Our Secret Ballots admits it expects a legal challenge if the amendment is ever enacted in Arizona or another state, especially since it is meant to conflict with the proposed federal law mentioned above.

The conservatives are upset at what they see as a power grab by the unions, and in this case their vision seems clear. The ironically named "Employee Free Choice Act" is being pushed with no apologies by the labor unions, which have seen falling membership in recent decades and need a boost. The bill would allow unions to get entrenched at a business merely by getting a majority of employees to sign a card over a period of time. Union supporters argue that a business can monopolize employees' time with brainwashing anti-union meetings or videos before an election, so elections must be eliminated.

Unfortunately, the so-called "card check" process can also be manipulated. And unions, despite their illustrious past in carving out workers' rights, sometimes play dirty.

Though a secret ballot election isn't perfect, there is no better way to vote on something if you want to reveal the voters' true feelings.

The early timing of the anti-union group's announcement is no doubt meant to influence lawmakers in Washington D.C. The threat of a massive constitution-changing effort will add to the buzz of criticism surrounding the "Employee Free Choice Act."

If unions can't make a better case for eliminating ballot elections, the proposed Act may go down in flames in the U.S. Senate like it did last year, and the arduous state initiative process can be avoided. -- Ray Stern

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.