A good friend recently compared the fate of a Nevada ghost-town to organized labor’s Holy Grail, the obscenely misnamed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). This piece of federal legislation, commonly referred to as “card-check,” would eliminate secret ballot elections in union organizing campaigns. Instead, union agitators would only need to coerce, threaten or intimidate a majority of workers into signing “cards” saying they wanted union representation.
So what’s this have to do with an old mining town located some 120 miles from Las Vegas?
Gold was discovered in Rhyolite in 1904 – and a population boom ensued. Stores, saloons, restaurants and boarding houses sprang up almost overnight. However, the only way to get to Rhyolite was via stagecoach, so the town decided it needed to build a railroad in order to facilitate its population growth.
The first passenger train arrived in Rhyolite in December 1906. By the following summer, the town’s population had swelled to well over 10,000 people. And then the bottom fell out.
The economic Panic of 1907 spelled doom for the town, as investments in the mines dried up. By 1908 the trains which had been built to feed the town’s growth were instead filled with people leaving. By 1910, only 611 residents remained; by 1915 only 20 people remained. The last Rhyolite resident kicked the bucket in 1924.
Now here’s the thing: EFCA could turn out to be Big Labor’s train to Rhyolite if pro-business, free-market members of Congress play their cards right and insist on a level playing field.
First, make no mistake; card-check legislation should be vigorously opposed on its merits simply for being un-American. At least as long as secret ballots are used to elect members of Congress. Secondly, opposition to card-check legislation doesn’t mean businesses can’t voluntarily recognize a card-check on their own. Many already do so willingly.
That said, no consideration of any card-check legislation should go forward without inclusion of a “reverse” card-check provision. In other words, if the card-check process can be used to form a union without a secret-ballot election, the same process should be available in reverse. Card-checks should also be allowed to decertify a union without a secret-ballot election.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
My guess is that if workers are allowed to both form and dump a union via the card-check process, you’ll see far more workers getting rid of their unions than creating new ones. Thus legislation intended to boost union ranks could turn out to be the vehicle for a mass exodus of workers from unionization. In that regard, card-check would be organized labor’s Rhyolite Express, as more workers use it to escape than join. All aboard!