U.S. Senate and House Introduce Employee Free Choice Act

March 11, 2009
On March 10, leading members of the U.S. Senate and House introduced the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), legislation they claim would help enable workers to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions by restoring their rights to form unions. Critics of the legislation, however, say it could damage unemployment rates, job creation and more.

Since 1935, workers have been allowed to form a union either through majority sign-up or through a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election. Supporters of EFCA say that while the NLRB election process uses slanted rules that favor employers, studies have found that the majority signup process reduces pressure and coercion in the workplace. Currently, however, employers can veto workers' decision to organize through majority signup and force them into the divisive NLRB election process.

EFCA would give workers the choice of whether to form a union either through majority signup or an NLRB election. It would also:

  • Stiffen penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or first contract drive, including requiring employers to pay treble back pay to workers whom they are found to have illegally fired; and
  • Allow employers and newly formed unions to refer bargaining to mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration if they are not able to agree on a first contract.

"Americans' wages have been stagnating or falling for the past decade. For far too long, we have seen corporate CEOs take care of themselves and shareholders at the expense of workers," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "If we want a fair and sustainable recovery from this economic crisis, we must give workers the ability to stand up for themselves and once again share in the prosperity they help to create."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said EFCA is "a critical step toward putting our economy back on track."

Chamber of Commerce Rallies Opposition

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on March 10 led nearly 200 local business and community leaders to Capitol Hill to voice opposition to legislation they say would effectively eliminate workers' right to a private ballot election in union organizing drives.

The Chamber says the "misnamed" Employee Free Choice Act, commonly known as card check, would strip workers of a private vote and grant government arbitrators sweeping new powers to dictate private sector wages and working conditions. The legislation also would impose one-sided penalties on employers, but not unions, for misconduct during union organizing drives.

"We are pleased this legislation has finally been introduced so we can put a stake through its heart," said Randel Johnson, the Chamber's vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits. "The more policymakers understand the bill the better our chances to defeat it. We look forward to the debate."

In the coming weeks, the Chamber's Workforce Freedom Airlift will bring small business owners and community leaders to Washington, D.C., to protest the legislation. The campaign also includes print and radio advertisements in various states and inside the beltway. In addition, an online "Virtual March on Washington" allows those unable to come to Capitol Hill the ability to join the march and voice opposition to the bill by sending an email directly to their lawmakers. Currently, over 13,000 activists are participating in the march through the Web site http://www.savethesecretballot.com.

J.P. Fielder, director of media relations for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently told EHS Today that the Chamber "vehemently opposes" the Employee Free Choice Act.

Layne-Farrar: EFCA Unlikely to Improve Social Welfare

Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar of the global advisory consulting firm LECG conducted a study, An Empirical Assessment of the Employee Free Choice Act: The Economic Implications, to assess the arguments presented for passing EFCA. According to Layne-Farrar, the findings suggest that passing EFCA significantly would increase the unemployment rate and decrease job creation.

Layne-Farrar projected that if EFCA passed today and resulted in a 3-percent increase in unionization from today's rate of 12 percent to 15 percent, unemployment a year from now would rise by 1.5 million. And if EFCA raised private sector union membership by between 5 and 10 percentage points, she estimated the unemployment rate would increase by 2.3 to 5.4 million in the following year.

"Proponents of EFCA argue that the Act will reverse the downward trend in union membership and thus bolster worker wages and overall social welfare. While I concur that union membership is likely to increase, especially as a result of a switch to card checks from the current system of secret ballot elections, I find that EFCA is unlikely to achieve its primary goal of improving overall social welfare," she wrote. "Any potential increase in some union-represented employee wages and benefits would be offset by other likely effects, including a reduction in jobs overall and an increase in the unemployment rate."

Both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, consider the Employee Free Choice Act a critical part in building an economy that works for everyone again. In separate recent speeches, they expressed that this legislation is a priority and that Congress must pass it.

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