As Nevada’s national political profile rises, it finds itself on the front lines of a growing number of issues. The latest is the Employee Free Choice Act, a law being debated in Congress that would make it easier for employees to unionize by bypassing secret-ballot voting in favor of simply signing an authorization card. Under the new law, if more than 50 percent of employees signed such a card, they could create a union on the spot.
Not surprisingly, the so-called card-check proposal has many up in arms. One organization, Save Our Secret Ballot, or SOS Ballot, is based here and is trying to outflank the proposed law in Nevada and 13 other states. (SOS Ballot is also operating in Arizona, Utah and Colorado.) The goal is not so much to challenge the legislation at the federal level but to fight it at the state level should it get passed. In Nevada that means putting an issue on the ballot in 2010 to preserve the current system of union selection, which requires employees to vote in private ballots to determine whether to form a union.
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“We’re going where we think the issue is ripest,” says Steve Wark, a founding consultant of the group. Why here? Nevada, he says, is a right-to-work state that “tends to have a populist political philosophy. From a political-landscape view it draws from swing voters on both sides of the aisle.”
Wark says he’s been on both sides of the issue, having walked picket lines as a union member. He thinks workplace laws are more favorable to union members now than ever before—citing the (perhaps slightly exaggerated) example that management no longer sends tough guys around to intimidate the workers.
“It’s always been my experience [that] each side will take the optimum advantage they can. I don’t blame organized labor for trying to do away with the statute that says you have to have a secret ballot.”
This is a far cry from the claims of some union organizers, who view the card-check proposal as a way to prevent companies from exerting undue influence in the “campaigning” that leads up to the traditional ballot vote. Supporters also claim that critics of the measure are funded by corporate interests. Wark says SOS has no big corporate donors. “We’d love to have a large funding mechanism, but we don’t. If we were funded by big corporate interests, we’d have a 50-state strategy now.”
SOS Ballot has only a handful of volunteers now. Under Nevada state law, the group can’t begin to solicit signatures until September. Wark says the group needs 60,000 signatures to get a measure on the ballot but is shooting for 100,000. “Our focus is very much on wanting to preserve the ability to vote privately,” he says. “The integrity of a private vote.”