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There are few legislative car wrecks that throw off more judicial debris than the collision between the federal government and a state when one passes a law the other disagrees with. And that’s what almost happened in Utah.
Utah is set to conduct a statewide election in November 2010 on an amendment to the state constitution, providing for a secret ballot "to designate or authorize employee representation." Under the amendment, if a union in Utah wants to organize a company’s work force, it must hold a secret ballot to determine if the workers want the union.
The federal government, on the other hand, was headed in the opposite direction, mandating no secret ballot—instead, a union could organize a labor force by having workers sign cards indicating their wish to have a union, the so called "card-check provision."
But at the last minute, Congress decided to give up the card-check provision, allowing for a secret ballot. So the nation was spared a constitutional court battle between Utah and Washington D.C.
Which is fine with Jim Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association (UFIA), who favors the state amendment. "We feel a secret ballot is a fundamental right of every worker," says Olsen, "and we’re confident the amendment to our constitution will pass. We’re also certain we would have won in court, if it came to that, because it’s one thing when state and federal laws clash, but when the matter involves a state constitution, the federal government has a much more difficult time of it."
Olsen, on a separate issue, can point to another victory in the state legislature when UFIA efforts helped defeat an increase in tobacco taxes. The proposed bill would have raised the tax on cigarettes to $1.31 a pack. The present tax, which remains untouched, is 69.5 cents.