This op-ed by Mitt Romney appeared online at DenverPost.com on 08/07/2009. It is entitled The EFCA Threatens Educational Innovation. EFCA, or Employee Free Choice Act, is otherwise know as “card check”.
Colorado has one of the strongest charter school movements in the country, providing rich educational opportunities for its young people. Unfortunately, future progress in public schools - in Colorado and around the country - could be threatened if Congress passes card check legislation. We have already seen it happen in Massachusetts.
New card check rules are one part of a proposed overhaul of U.S. labor law now being considered by Congress under the misleading name, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). If enacted, this bill would take away workers” rights to freely choose - or reject - union representation by the traditional secret ballot.
Instead of a fair election, unions would hold card-signing drives, which would require workers to make their decision known to co-workers and employers exposing them to intimidation and coercion.
Despite reports that Democratic leaders in Congress are going to water down this provision, union leaders say they will continue to push for it.
In 2006, my last year as governor of Massachusetts, I vetoed a card check bill that would have applied to public employees. But the following year, after I had left office, big unions again campaigned for the legislation, and this time my Democratic successor signed the bill into law. No one expected what happened next.
With new authority to compel workers to join unions, labor leaders and organizers unionized a charter school for the first time in Massachusetts, unbeknownst to school administrators and parents. One of the crucial benefits of charter schools is that they operate outside public employee union contracts.
Charter schools can be flexible and innovative, reward results, and provide alternatives to traditional public schools. They do not face the often burdensome union contract rules that stifle creativity and reward ineffective and unproductive teachers protected behind the muscle of union power.
The fate of card check could turn on just a handful of undecided Senators, including Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. When Bennet served as the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, he rightly challenged union authority to bring needed improvements to schools. He should view the Massachusetts experience with card check as a cautionary tale.
The Employee ‘Forced” Choice Act’s other primary component is mandatory federal arbitration, which is just as troubling as the loss of the secret ballot.
Under EFCA, federal arbitrators would automatically intervene in contract negotiations exceeding just four months - an especially short time for employers seeking adequate representation in what can be complex proceedings. Arbitrators would impose a mandatory two-year contract not subject to approval by business owners or workers.
EFCA’s arbitration rules would not simply deny choices to employers and employees. They could also make businesses uncompetitive and even unviable. Contracts set by outside government arbitrators would determine wages and benefits, and they could also set employee counts, determine business strategy, and more. This type of government intrusion in the workplace would not result in dynamic, job-creating businesses; in fact, it would be calamitous for our economy.
Labor unions play an important role in the American economy, and historically they have improved the lives of millions of workers. Today’s labor laws already protect the rights of employees seeking union representation and bargaining collectively for contracts.
But the strength of unions must come from their membership. Making union elections less democratic and imposing contracts on unwilling businesses will not advance the cause of labor - or benefit rank-and-file employees.
As one of the newest members of Congress, Senator Bennet has the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to Washington. EFCA is not an issue that should be decided on a strict party-line vote.
Working Americans and business owners are both Republicans and Democrats. Our nation’s labor laws should encourage businesses, schools, and other institutions to succeed through collaboration and flexibility, not by placing new power and authority in the hands of Big Labor and the federal government at the expense of employers and employees.
Mitt Romney is the former Governor of Massachusetts. EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.