Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Holy Unionization, Batman! It's The Employee Free Choice Act.

So, last night I'm switching between the Yankees game and C-Span (have I really become THAT dull?) when I come across the U.S. Senate's debate on the Employee Free Choice Act (the "EFCA"). I was well aware of the EFCA previously, but last night's debate really hit home ... I guess it was the large, pretty, multi-colored posterboards used by Robert Menendez (D. N.J.) to illustrate just how bad workers have it by NOT being unionized. Funny, I didn't hear the good Senator mention how union dues can be used to help pay for those Lincolns and Cadillacs typically driven by business agents. Oh, well.

Anyway, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the proposed legislation, the EFCA would amend the National Labor Relations Act by, among other things, requiring certification of a union as the exclusive representative of employees without an election where a majority of the employees in the bargaining unit have signed valid authorizations. In addition, the EFCA would require mediation and then arbitration of the terms of a first collective bargaining agreement where the parties could not agree within certain time periods, and would impose significant fines against employers in cases involving certain unfair labor practices. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

This is pretty scary stuff, folks. Most disturbing, IMHO, is the provision concerning certification of a union without an election. Typically, when an employer is presented by a union with authorization cards, the employer exercises its right to a representation election of employees using secret ballots because authorization cards generally may not be a reliable signal that an individual really wishes to join a union. In many cases, an individual will sign such cards based upon a misunderstanding, a misrepresentation by the organizer, or merely to get the organizer to stop bothering them. The EFCA would eliminate the election altogether and force an employer to become a union shop without any recourse to verify the true intent of its workers. I guess they call it the Employee Free Choice Act for a reason.

If the EFCA becomes law, employers will likely incur increased wage costs of at least 30% . If they are to stay in business at all, employers will either have to absorb those costs or pass them on to the ultimate consumer ... that's US. It may then be time to think about cancelling that nice, long awaited vacation out West and, instead, taking a walking tour of Hoboken.


Anonymous said...

It's a scary thing, you are right. The fact that Unions have become so irrelevant in todays society and yet grasp at anything they can to hold on... it's amazing.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

While the Employee Free Choice Act is finally under debate in the Senate, it amazes me the lies that continue to be told about the bill by corporate opponents. In a post last week on Firedog Lake, the AFL-CIO's Tula Connell shot down a lot of them. For example:

--The Act actually keeps the "secret-ballot" election process and adds the new majority sign-up process alongside of it.

--Workers get to decide which of the two methods to use. Most people don't know a form of majority sign-up exists today but is rarely used because right now employers get to decide the election process. Because workers get to decide the election process, they choose the one most favorable to them, the so-called "secret ballot".

--The "secret-ballot" method is neither free, nor fair, nor uncoerced. Employers control every aspect of the process, including timing and when and where supporters can organize support for the union. Employers also have almost unfettered opportunities to meet with workers individually and groups and try to scare them out of joining the union. And the Employee Free Choice Act won't change most of that.

Industrial and anti-union interest groups oppose the Employee Free Choice Act for one reason and one reason alone: money. They don't want to spend it to offer workers humane, compassionate wages and working conditions. So what's more important to the America you want to live in? One where human misery is less important than corporate profits, or one where middle-class workers (the great majority of Americans, mind you) have the guaranteed freedom to join together to bargain--just bargain--for a better life for them and their families?

If the answer isn't clear to those who oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, I think that's a pretty sad state of domestic affairs. That's not the country I believe in. I believe we're capable of far more love and kindness among each other.

George said...

The "reformers" miss a key point: the law was the same when unions had incredible power and regularly brought America's industrial powerhouses to their knees.

It worked then, didn't it? So what has changed? The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is a well-balanced law supporting workers' rights and providing for collective bargaining, while balancing those rights appropriately against employers' business interests. It has been fine-tuned by the NLRB for decades.

Some of the best evidence it doesn't require change is that management grumbles about the NLRB's pro-union bias, while unions see the opposite. This suggests that on the whole the NLRB actually maintains a fair balance most of the time, with each side getting its fair share of wins and losses. To my knowledge (being one of them), management lawyers and their clients are not as thrilled with the NLRB and the outcomes of particular matters before it as the reformers' arguments would suggest they would be.

The NLRA borders on obsolete today not because employers coerce employees, but because employees don't exercise their rights the way they did in the law's zenith, in the late 1940s through 1970s.

To say that under the EFCA employees can still choose a secret ballot election is disingenuous and misses the point completely: that choice would not itself be secret.

The employee would be forced to either publicly disclose unwillingness to leap into the loving arms of the union, while the union rep. is in his face and (probably) other employees are watching, or "freely agree" to waive the secret ballot election.

The union propaganda cited by Mike Doyle is riddled with other holes as well, such as that employers control the timing of an election. The unions well know that election timing is decided through NLRB processes, which have worked well for decades, including in the heyday of Jimmy Hoffa and Walter Reuther.

Symptomatic of the propagandistic approach of the quoted material is putting quotes around "secret ballot," as if this were a misnomer, without explaining why it is not an accurate description. In fact, NLRB procedures guarantee a secret ballot with nobody looking over the voter's shoulder. Obviously, this cannot be said of the card-signing process.

There's much more to be said, but I don't have all day.

George Lenard
George's Employment Blawg