Ed Schultz on Card Check: Secret Ballot 'Sacred' in Elections - Unless Held in Workplace

When it comes to a voter's right to privacy, some elections are less sacred than others to radio host Ed Schultz.

The country's top-rated liberal talker has seized on the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act -- also known as "card check" -- that would allow unions to circumvent workplace elections that currently let workers decide on unionization.

Here's Schultz on Monday, misleading his listeners on how card check would work (click here for audio) --

CALLER: I'd like to disagree with this Employee Free Choice Act. That's just completely an un-American way to go about forming a union. They want to have a public ballot, not private. They want to be able to find out who voted for what. And if somebody doesn't want to go along with it, for whatever reason they have, they're going to have to answer to all the union bosses and all the other guys ...

SCHULTZ (interrupting): All right, I gotta stop Stan right there because he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. There is a vote that can take place in the workplace. The employees can determine whether it's public or private. The Employee Free Choice Act does not mandate that there be a public vote, this card check thing. What the conservatives are trying to do, folks, is confuse you. And any time you have a public that is confused, you're not going to have a public that's going to support.

Here's Teamsters president James Hoffa Jr. on Schultz's show March 12, making a similar assertion after Schultz asked why the current "secret vote" is not the way to go (click here for audio) --

HOFFA: Well the answer is, maybe it doesn't work. We've got that right now. The other point the public should know, Ed, is that there is a provision, you know, for secret ballot. There's a provision in the act that if the majority of people also say, look it, we know we want a union and we also know that we can go card check, majority plus one, but there's a provision in the act where they can go and say, we elect to have a secret ballot. So it isn't that it's absolutely gone, the people can elect.

Schultz and Hoffa aren't the only EFCA proponents claiming this. So did MSNBC lefty pundit Rachel Maddow, claiming this on her show March 10 (follow this link to a video clip of the Maddow segment; her remarks below can be heard at 1:11 into the clip) -- 

MADDOW: Along with the option of the secret ballot, employees could instead choose the option of signing consent cards. Employees get to pick which one they want to do. That would avoid the need for the scheduled election if they decided to go with the card thing. All the employee intimidation that often goes along with the election, they could pick the card thing instead. That's the bill -- either cards or the secret ballot election. Workers get to decide.

I've heard several variations of this claim in public discourse over recent weeks. All share a suspicious lack of specifics.

Here is a link to the language of EFCA at THOMAS, the Library of Congress online repository of proposed and enacted legislation. I've read the bill twice and nowhere could I find this alleged provision amid the leaden legalese. In fact, most of the bill describes time frames of speeding up contract negotiations and harsher penalties for labor law violations.

EFCA is quite specific, however, in describing how workplace elections on unionization would be eliminated. Once "a majority of the employees" have signed "valid authorizations," the National Labor Relations Board "shall not direct an election" but instead certify the new union. 

In that same March 12 appearance on the Schultz show, Hoffa said as much, talking about how card check would work after initially describing unions' enthusiasm for it (click here for audio) --

HOFFA: When you do get it, you know, it breaks down into three parts, Ed. Number one, it's majority plus one, card check. You sign a card, you get it. Number two, treble damages. You know, if they fire you and you finally get your job back, they just don't pay you, you know, your regular wages after four years, after you've lost your house and your car and everything else, they pay you treble damages. And the third thing is, on the first contract, you know, they're going to help you after six months, if you can't get an agreement, they're going to have a mediator come in and then they're going to have an arbitrator, you know, give you the first contract.

(The concept of "treble damages" was apparently more than Schultz could fathom. Later in the show, he described it as "troubled damages" -- click here for audio). 

You sign a card, you get in -- what could be easier? No need for messy elections and their unpredictable outcomes (and heck, didn't Churchill criticize democracy as the worst form of government ...?) A majority of workers signing cards for a union is no guarantee of majority support in the election to follow, as union organizers have learned from hard experience.

As a former member of three unions, I have little trouble envisioning how EFCA would actually work. Workers who want to unionize would sign cards; those opposed or uncertain would sign documents requesting an election with private ballots. Those not signing cards would be fall under immediate suspicion as anti-union -- if they weren't, why not just sign the card?

Put another way, workers would decide on card check by a voting method closely resembling it. How clever! 

Besides, the secret ballot is hardly "sacred" in the workplace, at least not to Schultz, though it remains sacrosanct to him in congressional and presidential elections. Here's what passes for logic from Schultz on that score (click here for audio) --

You see, a secret ballot in the workplace, we have a secret ballot in November, every two years, and every four years for the presidency. And that secret ballot is sacred, but you know what, they don't get to do that every Tuesday. There's a big difference. This is not about who the people want to be in a position and that's what an election is, when you go in and vote, you are selecting what person you want to be in what position. But when you go up with an open ballot, you're saying this is the position I'd like to be in. Why would you want anybody to be in a position that would harm that?

Glenn Beck is an idiot. He's stupid. He's bought and paid for. He has no core value for the working folk of America. And Slanthead (Sean Hannity) is the same way. And Rush is just a college dropout. He don't know his ass from third base. He used so many drugs he can't even hear. These people are not experts on the middle class. They're only experts on themselves.

A sure sign Schultz is on shaky ground -- the cheap insults that distract from his argument rather than bolster it. And no wonder, considering the thin gruel he offers -- elections held only to elect candidates? Has Schultz missed the furor over Proposition 8 in California, a ballot question outlawing same-sex marriage?

Here in Massachusetts where I live, municipalities are limited to 2 1/2 percent annual increases in their tax levies due to a ballot question approved by voters in 1980. It was arguably the most consequential decision by Bay State voters in the last three decades -- and a candidate's name wasn't attached to it.

Look no further for evidence of how important EFCA has become to liberals than Schultz threatening on March 11 to "take out" Democrats who don't toe the line (click here for audio) --

If there is any Democrat in the House or the Senate that doesn't line up for the Employee Free Choice Act, I promise you we will take you out. I promise you we will target you and I don't care you who are, how long you've been there, I will get the unions together and if you're a Democrat and you don't support the Employee Free Choice Act, we will take you out. You're either with us or you're against us.

Rhetoric that liberals found most distasteful when directed by  President Bush toward those harboring terrorists.

Time is of the essence for EFCA supporters, not because of the stagnant economy and dubious value of card check in reviving it. No, liberals like Schultz are keenly aware that their window of opportunity -- Democrats controlling both Congress and the White House -- won't remain open indefinitely.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts