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Latest News - January 2011

January 18, 2011
Labor board threatens lawsuit over S.C. secret-ballot voting requirement
Source: Charleston Regional Business Journal
By: Ashley Fletcher Frampton

The federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize has put South Carolina and three other states on notice that it will sue to block recent constitutional amendments requiring employees to use secret-ballot elections to unionize.

The National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 13 sent letters to attorneys general in South Carolina, Arizona, South Dakota and Utah stating that their amendments conflict with federal labor law and therefore are preempted by the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The National Labor Relations Act gives employees two choices for organizing, and states cannot pass laws restricting them to one, NLRB officials said.

In addition to voting by secret ballot, federal law also allows for a majority of employees to acknowledge their support for a union with a signature and seek their employer’s voluntarily recognition.

“The state amendments prohibit the second method and therefore interfere with the exercise of a well-established federally protected right,” the NLRB said.

In a letter to S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon suggested that the state take measures to stop the ratification or enforcement of its constitutional amendment “to conserve state and federal resources.”

Solomon asked for a response within two weeks. “Absent any response, I intend to initiate the lawsuit,” Solomon wrote.

Mark Plowden, a spokesman for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, said officials are studying the material in the letter.

“South Carolina voters spoke overwhelmingly (86.2%) to ensure that their ballot votes are kept between them and their maker -- not to be influenced by union bosses,” Plowden said in a statement. “If that right is challenged, our office is prepared to defend it in court.”

S.C. voters endorsed the constitutional amendment in November. Lawmakers who put the amendment on the ballot said it was a response to federal legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act or “card check.”

That legislation, which has not gained traction in Congress, would require employers to recognize a labor union if a majority sign cards voting for unionization.

Business groups say the federal legislation would empower union officials to pressure employees to organize. Labor groups say that under the secret-ballot process, employers have an advantage and can use intimidation in their campaign against unionization.

The November ballot question asked S.C. voters whether the state constitution should be changed to “provide that the fundamental right of an individual to vote by secret ballot is guaranteed for a designation, a selection, or an authorization for employee representation by a labor organization.”



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