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The Employee Free Choice Act

Mar 16, 2009
We were of two minds about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), until we read the report on it from the Congressional Research Service.1 As always with the CRS, the report was succinct, clear, comprehensive, and nonpartisan. It provides Congress with a good understanding of complex legislation. After reading it, we are of one mind about the EFCA.

Unions are an endangered species in our society (see our Dec 26, 2008, item, We Can Do It!). The EFCA liberalizes the procedures involved in organizing workers into unions.

Currently, 30 percent of a body of workers need to present a petition stating their desire to organize. The National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) then calls for an election by secret ballot among all the workers in that body. The median period from petition to election in FY2008 was 38 days, and 95.1 percent of elections were held within 56 days (8 weeks). If most of the workers vote for union representation, the union is formed and the procedure passes on to the initial collective bargaining. In 32 percent of these cases the parties fail to reach agreement within the first two years following an election.

The EFCA would require the Board to certify an individual or labor organization as the exclusive representative of a bargaining unit without an election if a majority of the affected workers indicated their desire to unionize by signing a card. It would also allow binding arbitration to determine the initial contract between the parties should they not be able to come to an agreement in a reasonable amount of time. Finally, the EFCA would impose new and stiffer penalties for unfair labor practices by employers.

Proponents of the EFCA argue that by eliminating the long period between the petition and the election, employers will not be able to lobby against the election by means which they allege are unfair, coercive, and punitive. Opponents offer a good deal of cant regarding the perversion of the democratic process in eliminating secret ballot elections, but essentially they are bewailing the same thing the labor organizers are applauding: the end of that gap in time between petition and election. A better argument they offer (and sometimes even with a straight face) is that the new method exposes workers to the same intimidation tactics organizers accuse employers of using.

We feel, however, that if the law already requires 30 percent of the workers to petition publicly in favor of unionizing, then there is little additional harm in declaring a union in force once 51 percent do the same thing. It is not the best of all possible solutions. That would be one where all workers could decide for themselves, without pressure from employers or organizers. We don’t live in a perfect world however, and this solution does restore some balance between the parties seeking to support and to suppress unionization. The latter have had it their own way for some time, as the precipitous decline in union membership indicates. And that decline has played not a small part in the vast inequities in wealth we have seen develop in the U.S. over the past 30 years.

It is time to claim our fair piece of the pie. And we can only do that if we do it all together.
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1 The Employee Free Choice Act, by Jon O. Shimabukuro, from the Congressional Research Service via OpenCRS, Jan 26, 2009, accessed Mar 9, 2009
tags: Labor

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