Labor’s opponents attack Employee Free Choice Act

TV ads distort purpose of legislation

ONE OF THE most important pieces of labor legislation in decades has come under attack by business special interest groups. The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to make it easier for workers to organize. But the special interest groups have put up $160 million to stop it.

How employers fight organizing

25% illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns
75% hire consultants or union busters
78% force employees to attend one-on-one meetings against the union with their own supervisor
92% force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union
51% threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election
1% actually close the plant after a successful union election

Source: Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner, Director of Labor Education and Research, Cornell University;

In television ads and press releases, anti-union forces are distorting the purpose of the act, making false claims and trying to scare workers. Their goal is clear: keep things the way they are, so employers can continue to prevent workers from joining unions.

Workers find it hard to form a union

WORKERS FACE TOUGH obstacles when they try to organize these days. Employers use a variety of tactics ― both legal and illegal ― to keep unions out. They hire union-busting consultants, delay the organizing process through legal maneuvers, harass and intimidate employees, and fire key union supporters. Even when workers endure this process and vote a union in, employers often refuse to bargain in good faith. Frustrated and worn down, unable to get their first contract, sometimes workers give up their efforts to form a union.

How do employers get away with these tactics? Simply put, the penalties they face are mild. Even when they break the law and fire workers for exercising their legal rights to organize, the penalty is to reinstate the employees and give them back pay. For the employer, it becomes just another cost of doing business ― money worth paying, in their view, if they can threaten and intimidate their workers and kill their desire for a union.

The biggest obstacle to organizing is the current election process. Employers often choose not to recognize voluntarily their workers’ desire for union representation. Instead, they demand a secret ballot election through the National Labor Relations Board. Employers can then stall, object, appeal, and otherwise drag out the process. This gives them plenty of time to campaign against the union and coerce employees into giving up the effort.

Employee Free Choice Act strengthens worker rights, stiffens employer penalties

TO CORRECT THESE problems and put teeth into labor laws, members of Congress created the Employee Free Choice Act. The act easily passed the U.S. House in 2008, but Republicans prevented a vote on the measure in the Senate. Organized labor has made passing the bill its number one priority for 2009.

Here’s what the Employee Free Choice Act would do:

  • Allow workers to form a union through majority sign-up. If a majority of workers show they want a union by signing authorization cards, the employer would be required to recognize the union. If workers choose to settle the matter by secret ballot, they are free to do so. (Attack ads by business special interest groups falsely claim that workers would lose the right to secret ballot elections.) This change would take the decision about whether to hold NLRB elections out of the hands of the employer and put it in the hands of workers.
  • Allow workers or employers to request mediation. Under the act, employers would no longer be able to drag out the effort for a first contract in hopes of killing the union. If the parties cannot reach agreement after 90 days of bargaining, either the workers or the employer may request mediation. If an agreement is not reached after 30 days of mediation, both sides must submit to binding arbitration.
  • Increase penalties for employers who break the law. The act would stiffen penalties for unscrupulous employers. The act would raise the ante for workers who are discriminatorily fired to three times their back pay. It would also provide for civil fines up to $20,000 for violating workers’ legal rights to join a union and bargain collectively. In addition, workers would be given the same right that employers enjoy to stop immediately any activity that is found to be illegal through a court order (injunctive relief). This change would help ensure employers can no longer drag out organizing drives in an effort to defeat them.

Current union members should care about the Employee Free Choice Act

WHY SHOULD BOILERMAKERS or any other current union member care about this act? Think about where unions are today, how far they have fallen. In the 1950s, unions represented 35 percent of the workforce. Today unions are at 12 percent (only eight percent of the private sector). Fewer union members mean less clout for workers and more for employers.

Their goal is clear…prevent workers from joining unions.

And as unions shrink, so does the middle class. Union wages and benefits raise the standards for all workers. Weaker unions mean all workers suffer ― those who are organized and those who are not.

A study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates showed that about 60 million American workers who do not have unions would like to belong to one. The Employee Free Choice Act would go a long way to granting these workers that opportunity.

Television ads against the Employee Free Choice Act aim to fool workers into believing the act would be bad for them. But these ads are paid for by groups that oppose unions, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Right to Work (for less) Committee.

If the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, unions would regain some of their former strength, and so would the middle class.