RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The number of workers in unions is declining. Virginia has 161,000 union workers, down 5,000 from 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationally, the number has dropped from 20 percent of workers in 1983 to just under 12 percent. Unions are working to make joining easier, but the Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill that would keep union elections on a secret ballot.
Right now workers at a company can vote by secret ballot if they want to join a union. Unions have been fighting for "card check," which would allow workers to join if more than 50 percent of a company's employees agree by signing on a card or petition. Now a bill in the Virginia House aims to keep the vote on secret ballot.
For years, unions have been trying to get Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which includes a provision allowing workers to vote on joining unions through the open "card check" process. But business owners, and groups like the Virginia Manufacturers Association, want to keep the vote a secret ballot.
Said Brett Vassey, President and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, "What we see as employers is that elimination of the secret ballot, going to a card check, really exposes the individual and their families to opportunity for intimidation, also for harassment and undo pressure to sign that card."
The National Labor Relations Board could rule that a company must recognize card check votes. That prompted Delegate Tim Hugo of Fairfax to propose a bill to require secret ballot union votes in Virginia.
"There is no real impediment to forming a union if people want to. If people don't want to form a union, they should not intimidated. If you eliminate the secret ballot, you increase the potential for intimidation of workers and I don't think that's the right way ago," Hugo said.
There's a battle brewing. Four other states, Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah, just passed similar laws. But now the National Labor Relations Board says they violate the National Labor Relations Act, which lets employees vote by card check if the company allows it.
That's why Doris Crouse-Mays, Virginia AFL-CIO President, issued the following statement, "This bill is a huge waste of taxpayer time and money. Rules for union elections are governed by federal law and preempt states from passing their own laws.
Since this measure strips Virginia's workers of rights guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act, the inevitable court challenge will only drain precious state resources that could be used to create jobs. It's simply another attack meant to eliminate workers from having a voice through unions and it represents a pay back to corporate donors."
The House Commerce and Labor Committee voted 16-3 in favor of the secret ballot bill. It now goes to the House for a vote and if passed will move to the Senate.