Arizonans will vote Nov. 2 on whether they want a provision added to the state constitution guaranteeing secret ballots in union elections.
Proposition 113 would not change existing law. The National Labor Relations Act already requires workers to vote by secret ballot on whether to organize.
But congressional Democrats hope to approve "card check" legislation, which would allow a union to be formed with simply the signatures and consent of at least half the affected workers, with no need for an election.
President Obama backs that plan, and there has been talk of a post-election "lame duck" session of Congress to enact the change, especially if Republicans pick up seats in November.
Arizona Republicans say the state's Prop. 113 is necessary to keep union leaders from putting undue pressure on workers.
"The vote by secret ballot is considered a fundamental right," said former state Sen. Jonathan Paton, who recently lost a congressional primary race.
But legal experts disagree.
"I don't know of any fundamental right to have a secret ballot for union representation," said University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon.
According to Glennon, federal "card check" legislation would likely pre-empt Prop. 113.
"Ordinarily, when the federal government passes a law and the state does something that's inconsistent with that law, it's pre-empted," he said.
Barry Goldman, who teaches business law at the UA, said Congress is likely aware of Arizona's ballot measure and may enact federal legislation with the intent to specifically pre-empt state measures such as Prop. 113.
"Sometimes there is a preamble at the beginning of a bill that says it is the intent of Congress to regulate this area without state participation," he said.
United Steelworkers official Manny Armenta said the requirement that workers hold a vote before unionizing gives business owners the chance to pressure workers.
There is usually at least a month between submission of a petition and a vote.
"They slow down the process and then they have all these meetings to try and convince the people that it's wrong and they don't need it," he said.
Paton said that without the vote, union leaders can pressure workers.
"Union leaders don't want Prop. 113 because they feel like if people were able to vote their conscience then they would not vote to join a union," he said.
Supporters are spending big on behalf of Prop. 113.
According to the secre-tary of state's website, Save Our Secret Ballot Inc. has spent $542,716 to support the initiative.
Contact reporter Coley Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8429.