The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 16, 2007

Employee Free Choice Act passes House; but now comes the hard part

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI) - With a boost from the new Democratic majority, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to help level the playing field between workers and managers in organizing and bargaining, on March 1. The vote was 241-185. Democrats favored it 228-2, while 13 Republicans voted for it and 183 against.

Union leaders, including AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, hailed the House vote and looked forward to lobbying the Senate for EFCA. Unions blasted a renewed Bush White House threat to veto it.

And despite that threat, Sweeney called EFCA's passage "a momentous turning point in the growing movement to restore our nation's middle-class. Today, the voices of tens of millions of working people who deserve the right to make a free choice to bargain for a better life have been heard and heeded on Capitol Hill."

The so-called "card-check" bill would allow workers to form a union when a majority sign a card to do so. Republicans and their business allies claim that card check allows organized labor to subvert the secret ballot process. Labor and their Democratic allies say they wouldn't have a problem with secret ballots - if it weren't for negative employer influence before the elections.

But EFCA, faces a bigger hurdle in the Senate, which is controlled by a thin 51-49 Democratic majority. And Vice President Cheney has already indicated that President Bush would use his veto pen if the legislation reaches his desk.

"Nobody who is organized makes the minimum wage. The organized can lift themselves up" and EFCA is
designed to help them do that, said new House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) The problem with labor
law now, he added, is that "employers can delay and dissemble" and put unions off and meanwhile the "disparity between management and workers" grows. "We're saying to working Americans: 'We'll facilitate
the ability to have you organize,' " Hoyer declared.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), whose House subcommittee heard testimony on EFCA from
its friends and from business foes two weeks before, said "A lot of other people got their day around here for
the last 12 years, and you" - workers - "paid for it. The big oil companies won, the defense contractors
won, the big drug companies won" under Republican rule.

Turning to the workers assembled at that last celebratory press conference, Andrews advised: "Stick
around. Tomorrow is your day."

EFCA would also force employers to bargain with unions after recognition, by mandating mediation and
arbitration if the two sides can't agree on a first contract within 90 days. That would prevent one situation that freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) described at the press conference, where "ten workers in Minneapolis signed up with the IBEW in 2005, but talks have dragged on since."

Business lobbying against the bill is expected to be significant. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has launched an aggressive radio campaign opposing the EFCA, including in Michigan. The U.S. Chamber Vice President for Labor Policy Randy Johnson said the bill "sets a dangerous precedent and it is important for people in Michigan to know that a vote in favor of it is a vote for the interests of labor unions over the basic democratic right to free and fair elections."

The labor movement claims that playing field isn't level during election time: leaders argues that in the time leading up to the secret ballot process for voting in a union, employers are freely able to coerce, threat and fire workers who support a union in their workplace. Employers are also able to delay votes without penalty.

As we pointed our in our last edition, Andrews told the Construction Labor Report that there have only been 42 cases of union coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the signing of union authorization forms since the NLRB was formed. On the flip side, in 2005 alone, he said the NLRB awarded back pay to about 30,000 workers because of illegal employer discrimination.