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Voters approve secret-ballot proposition for union organizing

Employees interested in forming a union in Arizona may find the process a little lengthier after voters approved a proposition requiring a secret ballot vote.

Unofficial returns Tuesday night showed Proposition 113 passing with a wide lead.

The proposition is a move to counter proposed federal legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act that would eliminate the option of a secret ballot if a majority of workers sign a petition in favor of unionizing.

Supporters of the proposition, aimed at making a secret ballot mandatory after workers petition to form a union, say that without confidentiality employees are vulnerable to pressure to join in.

“We don’t just want to kill the Employee Free Choice Act, we want to kill the idea,” said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for Save Our Secret Ballot, a Las Vegas-based national organization that was backing similar measures in South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. “This speaks to the importance of the issue … hopefully it represents a change in tide.”

Opponents including the AFL-CIO and Arizona Education Association had argued that employers would intimidate workers in the time required to conduct a secret vote.

Linda Brown, executive director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said she was “extremely disappointed” that the proposition passed. She said she thought voters were confused by the title of the proposition – Save Our Secret Ballot.

“In fact, they were voting to ensure workers don’t have the opportunity to organize easily,” Brown said. “The last thing Arizona workers need is another roadblock on the way to decent wages, and that’s what this is.”

Through Oct. 13, the local chapter of Save Our Secret Ballot, the leading group supporting the measure, had collected $731,000, including about $683,000 from the national group.

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Save Our Secret Ballot organization doesn’t have to disclose its donors, and Caldwell has declined to disclose that information.

In the days leading up to Nov. 2, members of union groups such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees called the move an out-of-state grab.

The first step to forming a union is taking an open census, or petition, to gauge employees’ interest in forming a union. If 30 percent of employees sign indicating their support, the National Labor Relations Board holds a secret ballot to determine if a union will be formed.

Previously, if more than 50 percent of employees signed the petition, a union could be recognized immediately unless either the employees or an employer requested a secret ballot vote. Now, a secret ballot will be mandatory even when more than 50 percent of employees sign a petition in favor of a union.

Proposition 113, which was put on the ballot following a special legislative session, will be embedded in the state Constitution.

Supporters of Proposition 113 say they anticipate lawsuits if the federal Employee Free Choice Act passes and are eager for a debate.

As an opponent, Brown said she will be working to ensure the federal law passes and hopes that will result in Proposition 113 being overturned.

“Obviously, we have a lot of educating to do,” Brown said. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

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