Card Check: a cautionary tale

posted at 12:55 pm on March 25, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Mitt Romney has become an outspoken advocate against Card Check, the proposal that would strip employees and employers of the secret ballot in union organizing elections.  He puts pen to paper today for the Washington Times to tell a “cautionary tale” of how Card Check worked in Massachusetts.  The big target for unions in the Commonwealth wasn’t a sweatshop or even Wal-Mart, but in co-opting a threat to one of the most active unions in public works — charter schools.

Deval Patrick signed the Card Check bill that Romney had vetoed in the previous administration, and the union went to work:

With this powerful new tool, for the first time ever in Massachusetts, a charter school was unionized. One reason so many parents want their children in charter schools is precisely because they operate free of union contracts, so that when administrators want to try something new, they can implement it quickly.

For this, charter schools are fiercely resented by teachers unions as a competitor to failing public schools. Charter schools use a merit system, rewarding teachers according to results in the classroom. They don’t have complicated work rules that smother creativity, nor are they burdened with termination rules that make it almost impossible to dismiss an incompetent teacher.

The union drive started last year when the American Federation of Teachers met with a small group of teachers from the Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston. Throughout the summer, they worked behind the scenes to sign up a majority of the 20 teachers at the school. Administrators learned of the successful organizing effort only after the decision to unionize had been made. For parents who may have liked the idea of a union-free school, there was no chance to be heard.

Not surprisingly, the chairman of the school’s trustees is worried that a collective bargaining contract will be loaded with so many workplace restrictions that it will make it harder for the school to fulfill its mission to experiment with new ideas.

Romney wrote this as part of the Times’ “Reinventing Conservatism” series, and he makes clear that he supports unions — as long as the majority of employees truly want them and can vote their conscience through the secret ballot.  I agree, although I’d add that unions should have no right to “closed shops”, and that employees who do not want to participate in unions should not be forced to pay dues to them.  Some states have right-to-work laws that prohibit closed shops, and those should be maintained, as “freedom of association” also means the freedom to not associate, especially in the private sector.

The targeting of a charter school reveals why the unions want Card Check.  They’re not looking to free workers — they want to limit choices and options, and protect union sinecures.  The unions talk about Wal-Mart and their supposedly exploitative employment arrangements, but Wal-Mart doesn’t represent a threat to established union turf the way charter schools do.  I somehow doubt that the compensation at the charter school in question was worse than that offered by Wal-Mart or any other employer demonized by Card Check’s advocates.  The NEA just wants to kill charter schools so that they can control the education monopoly entirely once again.

I’ll be interviewing Governor Romney on today’s Ed Morrissey Show, and we’ll talk about this as well as his evaluation of Geithner’s plan and Deadbeatonomics.  Don’t miss it!


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