Secret-ballot resolution passes Missouri House

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 | 1:47 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal that some Democrats criticize as being a ploy to break up unions passed the Missouri House in a 82-76 vote Monday.

The resolution proposes a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote by secret ballot in elections concerning referendums, public officials and employee representation.

"We are not the Soviet Union; we are the United States of America," said the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville. "We simply cannot let the use of secret ballots be taken away. It is a cornerstone of our democracy. Missouri citizens deserve this right, and Washington, D.C., should not take that away."

Although Cunningham said his intentions were focused on guaranteeing fair elections instead of preventing union creation, some representatives accused the proposal of being a plot to stop worker organization.

"It's not about secret ballots, it's not about preserving the ballot — this was all done as a subterfuge in total opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act," said Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial. "This is going to take away workers' rights, and the main goal of this is to stomp the living guts out of organized labor and out of workers' rights."

The Employee Free Choice Act, which is currently being considered in Congress, would allow workers to unionize without employer approval if a majority of employees at a company agree to do so. Currently, a secret-ballot election can be mandated by the employer before organization can occur.

Representatives who oppose the bill, such as Meadows, say some employers use the time before a secret-ballot election to intimidate workers with threats of firing or closing of a job site in an effort to prevent unionization.

Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, said that the Employee Free Choice Act would take away the right to a secret-ballot election for workers.

"It says in the federal law they shall not call an election," Sander said. "So any representations to the fact this is not about guaranteeing an election, a right to a secret ballot for individuals is totally hogwash."

The proposal now moves to the Senate. If both chambers approve the measure, it will face a statewide referendum.

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