This is the third in a series of articles to spur a serious discussion about unions, the larger labor movement, and their impact on the American workforce. Please join in. All respectful commentary welcome.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) died an unnatural death in Congress, killed off by corporations armed with campaign cash and spin. This modest bill would have allowed workers to organize into unions simply by signing membership cards and, with majority support, a union could be certified. It’s called “card check.” It would have helped workers avoid employer intimidation and coercion in a system known for dragging out union elections for months and sometimes a year or longer.
At the epicenter of the sound and fury against the bill were charges that it would eliminate worker’s right to secret ballot elections. Never mind that behind the formidable opposition were a legion of corporate lobbyists and corporate-funded organizations, like the Heritage Foundation and the US Chamber of Commerce, that traditionally oppose any advancements in workers’ rights. All of sudden they and the politicians in their pockets were worker advocates! And much of the mainstream media bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Altogether missing in the debate were some essential and little known facts, not the least of which is that card check is already part of existing labor law. In fact, it’s how workers get union elections in the first place.
Typically what happens (and this is generally the rule under most labor laws) is that when workers contact a union for representation they get a supply of “authorization cards” to distribute among their co-workers. Workers who sign the cards are authorizing the union to represent them. Once the union collects enough cards and can establish a sufficient “showing of interest” one of two things can happen--and this is what no one who opposed EFAC ever raised:
1. The union can file for card verification and an election through the appropriate government agency (which depends on the type of work involved), or…
2. THE EMPLOYER can agree to “voluntary recognition” of the union!
Yep, that’s right. If the employer doesn’t want the election, the employer has the right to waive it and agree to recognize the union. That’s the law as it currently exists. What EFCA would have done was to give that right to workers who are already required by law to sign authorization cards.
Think about that. In all the ruckus over EFCA, no one proposed eliminating the employer’s ability to waive an election. It was only a controversy when it smoothed the path for workers to make their own decision to join unions.
Labor laws forbid employer interference in workers’ right to join, organize and support labor unions, yet it happens routinely. Law firms providing “union avoidance” services to small and large businesses are a big industry in and of themselves. Union busting is rampant, union membership is the lowest it’s been in 97 years, and average workers’ wages are down while the richest Americans now enjoy record income and wealth.
Only workers organizing in their own interests can reverse this trend, and common sense labor law reforms are desperately needed to help them do it. If they can’t, expect more of the same.
Remember, different labor laws govern different workers. The National Labor Relations Act covers most private sector workers. The Railway Labor Act governs work in the railroad and airline industries. Public workers are under separate state and federal laws. Be sure to check which laws apply to you.
For general information about unions, check here: Learn About Unions