Ernest Istook is a former Congressman from Oklahoma, a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and the Chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Save Our Secret Ballot. On January 13, 2009, Istook spoke at the Conservative Bloggers Briefing about the mission of Save Our Secret Ballot.
Istook started, “Intimidation and attempts to intimidate people is very real, and certainly, one of the areas which has a sad history is when it comes to union organizing tactics.” He explained that Congress is preparing to vote on a bill entitled “The Employee Free Choice Act.” However, the name, as he argues, does not fit the material. The bill will remove the requirement that union elections be secret. Under this new bill, employees dealing with labor unions will not be able to hide their votes and will be exposed to intimidation from the unions. He argues, “The unions are seeking to bypass [secret ballots] as their payback for hundreds of millions of dollars they have invested in the elections. The so-called, misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act” was passed in the U.S. House in 2007 with 241 votes.” He argues that this same bill, regardless of whether or not it passes, will continue to come up in the U.S. Congress. Because of this, he turns to the states.
Istook states, “Save Our Secret Ballot exists to give the citizens in the various states the opportunity to create state-level protection for secret ballots—that would include union representation elections.” He continues, “This is a grassroots effort. This is going to involve circulation of petitions in different states…it’s going to involve getting state legislatures to help put it on the ballot… A lot of members of Congress try to dodge and try to straddle this issue. Well, when everybody in their state [has] to take a side, it becomes more difficult for members of Congress to straddle the issue.”
In August of 2001, Istook relates, 16 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the Mexican government. The congressman that wrote the letter is George Miller, co-author of the Employee Free Choice Act. The letter reads:
“As members of the Congress of the United States who are deeply concerned with international labor standards and the role of labor rights in international trade agreements, we are writing to encourage you to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections.
“We understand that the secret ballot is allowed for, but not required, by Mexican labor law. However, we feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.
“We respect Mexico as an important neighbor and trading partner, and we feel that the increased use of the secret ballot in union recognition elections will help bring real democracy to the Mexican workplace.”
The same man that penned these words also penned the words of the Employee Free Choice Act. Istook calls this hypocrisy: “Unfortunately, when people just dance to the tune played by the labor unions bosses, they reverse their position on things like this. The hypocrisy is overwhelming, and it’s driven by the desire to reverse the 50 year decline in union membership in the U.S.… If Mexican workers should have that right, don’t we believe that American workers should have the same right?” He argues that without amending the states’ constitutions to include secret ballots as a right, Americans could lose some precious freedoms they may take for granted. He says, “This is not a pro-union or anti-union issue. The proponents push it solely to build up union membership…. The secret ballot is the key to protecting our other rights: to protect freedom of conscience, to protect freedom of choice, to protect freedom from intimidation—that is…the essence of the democratic process…. Again, what’s good for Mexico ought to be good for America.”