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Arizona's preemptive strike against card check

August 12, 2010 |  5:00 am

You've got to hand it to Arizonans for being ahead of the curve in picking fights with the feds. Two years ago, long before Congress even took up healthcare reform, opponents of mandatory health insurance put an initiative on the state ballot to bar Arizonans from being compelled to participate in any healthcare system. Voters narrowly defeated it, but the state Legislature agreed last year -- nine months before Congress enacted a healthcare reform bill with an individual mandate -- to put a similar proposal on the ballot in November.

Now state legislators have proposed an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that would bar workers from unionizing through signature drives -- better known as "card check" unionization. Labor leaders have pushed hard for card-check rights, but their efforts have gotten nowhere in Congress despite the support of President Obama.

The proposed constitutional amendment, headed for a vote in November, would give workers in Arizona the right to a secret-ballot vote on any proposal to unionize. But like the healthcare ballot measure, the amendment conflicts with federal law and is almost certain to be preempted.

The National Labor Relations Act allows unions to organize not just through a secret-ballot election but also by collecting signatures from a majority of the eligible employees. The latter option has a major handicap, however: The act doesn't require employers to recognize unions formed this way. As a consequence, not many do. Hence organized labor's eagerness to enact the card-check bill (dubbed the Employee Free Choice Act), which would compel employers to recognize unions approved through signature drives.

I'm no fan of the card-check legislation -- a better way to answer labor's complaints about employers gaming the current system would be to beef up enforcement of the law's prohibitions against obstructing or manipulating secret ballots. But the proposed Arizona amendment goes too far in the other direction, attacking an option for organizing workers that employers already hold veto power over. And given the conflict with federal law, you have to wonder whether the purpose is to set policy or just score political points with the anti-union crowd. Then again, maybe state legislators just like to tussle with the feds.

-- Jon Healey

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