EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - June 25, 2007)
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Mr. MCCONNELL. Mr. President, more than three centuries ago, settlers in the New World began to put into practice the political ideals that brought them here and for which many of their descendants would later fight and die.
One of the most important of these was the ideal of political freedom, and one the most concrete expressions of it was the right to vote in secret, without harassment and without coercion. Rejecting the English Parliamentary tradition, several colonies, including all the New England colonies, established secret elections as the norm.
The secret ballot has been standard everywhere else in this country for more than a century. It simply hasn't been questioned. Americans have come to assume that in everything from electing their high school yearbook editor to their President, their vote is sacred and it is secret.
That is, until now. The so-called ``Employee Free Choice Act'' is an assault on the centuries-old practice of secret voting, and the fact that we are here in this Chamber discussing it at all is a scandal.
The Employee Free Choice Act was not written to help employees. It was written to help union bosses, who are angry because their membership has been plunging for decades.
This bill aims to reverse that trend by stripping workers of the right to vote privately for or against a union. They'd be forced to publicly sign a card instead, exposing them to coercion and intimidation by employers and union bosses alike.
When union bosses convince more than half the employees at a work site to sign a card authorizing a union, they will be free to organize.
Meanwhile, employers would be free to check whether their workers favor labor or management.
Look, Congress settled this issue 60 years ago when it amended the National Labor Relations Act to provide secret ballots at the workplace. Congress changed the existing law then precisely because of widespread intimidation and coercion at the workplace.
Now our Democratic friends want to strip that right away from 140 million American workers, rolling back the clock 60 years on employee rights and potentially eroding the broader voting rights that generations of Americans have fought to secure for themselves and their children.
This is really a disturbing development. For years, American voters have been able to depend on Democrats to be loud persuasive supporters of voting rights. Their sudden conversion is shocking, but its cause isn't a secret.
Speaking to a union rally on Capitol Hill last week, the distinguished majority leader gave us a clue into the origins of this anti-Democratic bill. Here's what he told the unions that showed up: Democrats are in control of Congress now because of you. You made all the difference--and let me start with two words: thank you.
Well, are we to expect that blowing these folks a kiss at a pep rally was all they wanted? I think not.
The unions haven't been coy about their legislative wish list. And according to the Las Vegas Review Journal: ``The Employee Free Choice Act is at the top of their wish list.''
The Review Journal is calling this a textbook case of payback. Well, for all you civics students out there, you are about to see a textbook example of something else: how this kind of thing backfires when it threatens to undermine something that Americans hold dear, and that is the right to vote without somebody looking over your shoulder.
Historians tell us that once secret ballots gained near-universal acceptance a little over a century ago, the only Western country that didn't continue to observe the practice religiously was the Soviet Union.
Yet even there, communist leaders were careful to maintain at least the formal appearance of secret ballots. An ad that recently appeared in a number of national newspapers illustrates my point. I think I have it here behind me. At least I thought I was going to. I guess I don't.
Leading with the quote; ``There's no reason to subject the workers to an election,'' it asks: ``Who said this?''
We are given three choices: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Idi Amin, and American union leader Bruce Raynor. It was Raynor in fact who said that in defense of the Employee Free Choice Act.
No wonder the Communist Party USA endorsed the bill at its national convention in 2005.
It's understandable why my good friends on the other side hoped they could introduce this bill quietly--just slip it in, watch it fail with a whimper, then crow about their support for Big Labor at political rallies.
They knew as well as I do that if voters knew they were looking to roll back a basic protection like the right to vote in secret, they would be in trouble.
The polling data is overwhelmingly on this one: Nine out of ten Americans--including 91 percent of Democrats--favor the right to a federally supervised secret ballot election when deciding whether or not to form a union. The main provision in this bill is about as popular as poison ivy, which is why this was supposed to all be quiet.
Incredibly, my good friend the majority leader has even indicated that he doesn't expect the bill to pass. Last week he was worried that some Republicans who are opposed to the immigration bill would vote for this bill just to delay debate on that one.
He said such a move would be made out of pure spite, which could only mean that he doesn't expect--or want--this bill to go anywhere.
So what are we doing here?
I'll tell you what: we are being told to squeeze in a vote on this anti-Democratic bill between two of the most important pieces of legislation in this Congress, in the hope that it will fail.
Well, it will fail. But not quietly.
Democrats can't put voting rights on the table and expect to get away with it.
So first, Republicans will indeed block this bill.
But we won't be quiet about it. We're not going to forget about it. We will make sure Americans don't forget about it either.
We'll remind our constituents that our friends on the other side didn't mind promoting a bill that would lead to voter intimidation by employers and union bosses.
All but two Democrats in the House passed their version of the bill in March. Apparently they have no problem with union bosses following employees to their cars after work and telling them to vote union.
Apparently they have no problem with these guys following workers home at night and knocking on their doors for a chat.
I am not making this stuff up.
We have read about a case in Louisiana where a worker was forced to seek an arrest warrant for a union boss who showed up at his home eight times trying to get him to sign a unionization petition.
Under this bill, the threat of employer intimidation is just as worrisome. Imagine having to announce in front of the person who writes your review, who sets your bonuses, approves your raises, and controls future promotions that you prefer labor to management.
This is no different than the days when landowners sent their agents into the fields to tell their tenant farmers how to vote in local elections. It was because of practices like these that the first colonists fled to America in the first place.
Another reason Democrats wanted to keep this bill quiet is that so many of them are on record opposing any abridgement to the right to secret ballots.
On the first day of this session, the Senate's Democratic leadership introduced a bill outlining the purpose of U.S. Democracy-building efforts abroad. This Congress' Democratic leadership introduced this bill. Here's what it said:
It should be the policy of the United States to use instruments of United States influence to support, promote, and strengthen democratic principles, practices, and values, including the right to free, fair, and open elections, secret balloting, and universal suffrage.
Apparently, our good friends on the other side believe the right to a secret ballot is essential for everyone--except the American worker.
Time and again, Democrats have expressed their belief that the right to a secret ballot is sacred in a democracy.
Six years ago, 16 Democrats in the House sent a letter to a group of government officials in Mexico chastising them for even considering a switch away from secret ballots.
We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.
Support for the secret ballot in the Senate has been just as passionate. My good friend the senior Senator from Vermont has called it ``one of the great hallmarks of this Democracy. ``
The senior Senator from Connecticut has referred to ``the sanctity'' of a private ballot.
The junior Senator from Iowa went even farther, saying in 2005 that:
Perhaps what we need is a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right of every citizen of the United States a secret ballot and to have that ballot counted.
Nine out of 10 Americans agree with these Democratic Senators, which is why their party's effort to roll back this right for workers is so alarming, and why it promises to be so alarming to voters next year.
Unions have every reason to be worried about their membership, which has been in steady decline for decades. In 2005, only 12.5 percent of workers nationwide belonged to unions. In the private sector, the figure was even more anemic. It is now less than 8 percent.
But the price of reversing this trend shouldn't be one of the fundamental tenets of a free society, nor should elected officials be complicit in the effort.
According to the Associated Press, organized labor spent some $100 million on get-out-the-vote efforts last year, reaching tens of millions of voters by phone and other means on behalf of labor-backed candidates. Labor PACs contributed $60 million for federal candidates, including $40 million from the AFL-CIO.
According to news reports, Big Labor explicitly traded their endorsements of prospective freshman Democrats last year for the promise that the candidates would later vote in support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
After the election, AFL-CIO's chief John Sweeney told a reporter it was money well spent. Big Labor had a plan when it poured money into the election last year.
Look, you don't need to be John Locke to figure out what's going on here. The unions are losing the game, so they have decided to change the rules.
But the rule they want to change isn't some little provision in the labor code it is a fundamental right that the citizens of this country have enjoyed without interruption for more than a century.
This was bold, it was desperate, and it was stupid.
Republicans will proudly block this bill from becoming law, and we will just as proudly remind people who forced a vote on it in the first place.
Today happens to be the birthday of George Orwell, a great enemy of tyranny who had some harsh things to say about political speech.
Orwell saw how rhetoric was used in his own day to excuse the inexcusable.
We now call it doublespeak--or speech that is meant to conceal the actual thought of the person speaking.
I can think of no better example of this than the Employee Free Choice Act.
This bill isn't meant to help employees; it is meant to help unions. It is not about increasing employee choice, but limiting it.
I will vote against it. And I strongly urge--and fully expect--my Republican colleagues to join me.
I yield the floor.