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AP File Photo/Mark Humphrey / Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks during a presentation on the planned factory to build electric F-Series trucks and the batteries to power future electric Ford and Lincoln vehicles last September in Memphis.

When state legislators were considering incentives for Ford during their special session last fall, state Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, introduced an amendment to prevent a potential unionization attempt at the plant through the "card check" process, which is often said to invite intimidation and pressure.

The amendment was defeated and the incentives OKed, but she said she was working with an attorney on a bill she would introduce in the 2022 legislative session forbidding companies who receive economic incentives from the state from using "card check" to achieve unionization.

Earlier this week, she did just that.

Smith's bill proposes that any business or entity seeking state funding of any sort must provide its employees the opportunity to vote for or against their representation in a labor union via a secret ballot.

It is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who had indicated after the special session that the subject of unions was likely to come up again in this session.

Her bill is not a step Smith could have taken about any business seeking union representation because National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regulations specify that three different methods of establishing a labor union (including secret ballot and "card check") are equal, but she said the state offers such an authority when granting access to state dollars.

"Workers, business owners and companies are coming to Tennessee for many reasons," she wrote in a Facebook post this week. "Among those is the fact that Tennessee empowers its workers with protections from a requirement to be a labor union member as a condition of employment.

"Currently, the Right to Work protections in our law, and hopefully soon in our state constitution, codify this fact, but the National Labor Relations Board does not prioritize a worker's right to a secret ballot vote as a way to indicate their wishes to work at a union versus a merit shop or business."

Ford, according to Times Free Press archives, has a voluntary, universal agreement with the United Auto Workers to use the "card check" method to achieve union certification. And when legislators were voting on state funds for the $5.6 billion, 6,000-job electric truck manufacturing plant in West Tennessee, they apparently didn't want to risk nixing the deal by voting for Smith's amendment.

Indeed, even Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee told reporters at the time he didn't push for a secret-ballot vote for the upcoming plant, and his administration officials testified in a Senate hearing during the special session to Ford's tacit agreement with the UAW.

In the "card check" process, 30% of employees must sign cards or forms voicing support for a union to request a secret-ballot election. If the union gets signed cards by a majority (50% plus one) of employees, it can ask the NLRB and the employer for simple recognition by "card check." If the employer agrees, the union would become the exclusive bargaining representative for employees without having a secret-ballot election.

However, we feel most Tennessee workers believe a union election should be conducted by a secret ballot like all U.S. elections.

"Interestingly," Smith wrote in an email to this page, "unions in Tennessee have only been established when 'card check' is employed and have failed when monitored secret ballots have been used (as with Chattanooga's Volkswagen in its two attempts at unionization)."

While the "card check" process is an acceptable NLRB method of choosing unionization, more than four out of five people surveyed supported secret ballots in union-organizing elections in a 2009 poll conducted for the National Retail Federation. And in a 2004 Zogby survey for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 78% of union members said they preferred keeping a secret-ballot process to one "less private."

We would guess those numbers either have remained stable or increased slightly since then.

The states themselves have spoken about the sanctity of a secret ballot in their elections.

Although a secret ballot in U.S. elections is not guaranteed by the Constitution, 44 states have constitutional provisions guaranteeing it, and the other six have statutory provisions enshrining it.

Smith's bill goes on to say that employees have "the right to not be subject to unfair labor practices," and that a business must "grant equal access to its property to employees and proposed bargaining representatives named on an organization election ballot."

"Tennessee is America at her best," the Hixson lawmaker wrote on Facebook. "Our state must not be changed by failed policies and practices of states whose citizens are unemployed and strapped with ruined economies."

We hope Smith's bill is successful. As we said last year, we can't imagine any union official who would approve congressional and presidential elections through the "card check" method where their ballot is not secret, so we don't know a rational reason why any union anywhere in the country should want to reject a secret ballot vote on unionization.

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