Senate Republicans failed on Tuesday to approve a constitutional amendment that openly conflicts with federal law. The vote was 20-17, with all Democrats opposed. (Constitutional amendments require twenty-one votes in order to pass; one Republican senator did not vote.) Under the guise of protecting Virginians’ ability to vote by secret ballot, Sen. Bryce Reeves’ (R – Spotsylvania) SJ 278 would have prohibited a federally-protected means of organizing a union.
Said Sen. Donald McEachin (D – Henrico), “SJ 278 would put our state constitution into direct conflict with federal law. Instead of wasting time on such a cheap political stunt, Republicans should be working with us to enact common-sense solutions that help Virginians lead safer, healthier, and more prosperous lives.”
Said Sen. John Edwards (D – Roanoke), “We already have the secret ballot in the political process, as we should, but this resolution also applies to labor unions. Federal law pre-empts this amendment as it applies to organized labor, because labor relations are covered by the National Labor Relations Act. Passing a Virginia constitutional amendment on this issue would violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
Under the National Labor Relations Act, unions can be formed by either a secret ballot or a card check process. If employers wish to contest the result of a card check, they can require that it be ratified by secret ballot — but if they wish to accept the result and move on, they have that right, as well. If all union organizing efforts were required to include a secret ballot, employers would lose that option.