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Secret ballot is a right worth protecting
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Published: 3/7/2009 11:19 PM

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It's foolish to apply simple labels like pro-labor and anti-union to the sides in the debate over legislation to make it easier to unionize.

To be sure, the usual union foes stand strongly against it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, backed by local chambers throughout the suburbs, say the law would crush small business owners and eliminate jobs. The AFL/CIO says it will eliminate employer intimidation.

But it's just not that simple.

Known as the "Employee Free Choice Act" by supporters and the "Card Check Bill" by opponents, the legislation would allow laborers to organize simply by having a majority of employees sign a union card. This elimination of the required secret ballot is troubling and is the focus of the debate from the streets of Mount Prospect to the halls of Congress.

"A union election should be conducted just as any fair and open election for any office. That means workers should be able to hear from both sides of the issue - management and the union," wrote Jim Uszler, executive director of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, in a recent letter to the editor. The chamber's members recently voted to oppose the act. Uszler is right.

It makes no sense to take away a worker's privacy. Face-to-face invitations to sign the card sound like ideal conditions for intimidation.

Maybe there is some opportunity for employer intimidation now. But there also are penalties. The existing system is more cumbersome, sure. The bill includes other reforms that might be worth debating - stiffer penalties for violations and speeding up a very slow process. These issues aren't serious enough to infringe on the secret ballot, the foundation of our republic.

Locally, the potential impact on small business owners is significant. It's the wrong time to expose struggling entrepreneurs to more demands. They drive the interconnected system that will lead our economy back to health.

The Chamber says the bill will cost 600,000 jobs nationwide in 2010. There's no way to know if that's accurate. But we do know we can't afford something that will cause that - or even half that.

The National Labor Relations Act was enacted in 1935, during the Great Depression. The difference, however, is that today's workers already enjoy many protections that didn't exist then.

Even George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic candidate for president, departs from union friends, reminding us that, "Voting is an immense privilege" in a Wall Street Journal guest column.

This legislation, which passed the U.S. House in 2007 but couldn't get support in the U.S. Senate, is back on the table under a president who campaigned on its passage.

That doesn't make it a sure thing. Write U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Roland Burris. Write your representatives in Congress. Write President Barack Obama. Tell them you support workers' rights to a secret ballot. Tell them you still value the "immense privilege" of voting.

Stand up for secret ballot elections _ and the small local businesses that define the suburbs.