The Judiciary Committee of the South Carolina House voted to move to the House floor a measure that would call for a constitutional amendment to protect the right of workers to vote for union representation by secret ballot. Bill sponsor Chester County Representative Greg Delleney says there is a move in Congress that would allow a union to be established at a work site if more than 50 percent of workers sign cards saying they want a union, thus negating the secret ballot. Delleney says in a number of cases workers sign cards saying they are pro union, so they won’t be hassled by union reps, but have no intentions of voting for the union. Delleney says protecting the secret ballot union vote by constitutional amendment would be a preemptive strike against the proposal circulating in Washington to abolish the secret ballot. According to Delleney, “with a constitutional amendment that if you have the law in South Carolina is that you have to have a secret ballot then you still have to have a secret ballot. You wouldn’t be able just to show these cards and say look more than 50 percent of the people here want a union so we are going to have one. If you don’t agree with this contract, if we can’t agree, then we’re going to call in the federal government and they are going to make you agree and we are going to have a contract.”
A measure calling for a constitutional amendment must pass the House and Senate by a two thirds vote before it can be placed on a statewide general election ballot for state citizens to approve or disapprove.
Newberry County Representative Walton McCleod says he knows he is in the minority when it comes to the proposal but he says it is important for him to state for the record that the state constitution makes provisions to protect by secret ballot local and state elections pertaining to political offices, not private entities like labor unions.
McCleod says “We have a right-to-work law in our state which we are perfectly entitled to have under the federal Taft-Hartley Act. But we are now embarking on a proposal to amend the constitution of our state in an area which has clearly been preempted by federal law.”
Delleney says currently Arizona has a law on its books similar to the constitutional amendment being presented to the South Carolina house. Committee member Dorchester County representative Jenny Anderson asked Delleney if having a secret ballot law aimed at unions would help the state recruit industry, “Would it put South Carolina in a unique position with regard to economic development if only two states in the country would protect the right to a secret ballot election.” Delleney agreed with Anderson’s assumption but added that he thinks more states would be developing similar forms of legislation in the near future. Delleney says any measure Congress passes may preempt state law, but in the case of abolishing the secret ballot for union voting, it is anticipated that there will be debate on the measure that would exempt states that already have a constitutional amendment establishing the secret ballot right.