Get ready for the Employee Free Choice Act

The White House is threatening to veto a bill to fully implement the 9/11 commission's recommendations. What horror could be in that bill which would earn the second veto in 6 years?:

the White House [is] threatening a veto because one part would extend union protection to 45,000 airport workers.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of labor. My grandfather was a secretary-treasurer of his union, and while speaking out against the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, he got into a tiff with Representative Richard Milhous Nixon.

The Taft-Hartley Act passed, despite President Truman's veto. Truman declared it to be a "slave labor bill," because it placed limits on the powers of unions to work for a fair deal, and put limits on the government's power to enforce rules protecting workers as they try to form unions.

The National Labor Relations Board has been been stuck with the same fines for companies that break those rules for decades. Abuses are rampant, with 46% of workers complaining about management pressure in some elections, a fifth of union organizers or activists get fired during union drives, and half of employers threaten to close a worksite when a union starts organizing. Of course, these tactics are illegal. But with fines so low, and the NLRB so weak, companies would rather pay a fine than allow a fair union drive.

Under current rules, employers can force workers into public elections, noting which workers show up to vote, and targeting them for retaliation. The alternative too, one common in Canada and much of the rest of the world, is something called a "card check election." Organizers give workers cards on which they could indicate their interest in creating a union, and when a majority of workers had turned in their cards, the union would be certified and begin negotiating on behalf of the workers. When researchers have tracked those elections, there is less coercion by unions or management than in public elections.

Current rules also allow management to force workers into closed meetings, at which they are free to present whatever dishonest, anti-union propaganda they choose. Unions, of course, have no opportunity to respond in a similar forum.

Luckily, there is a bill in Congress that will reverse some of these harmful trends. The Employee Free Choice Act will come up for a vote tomorrow in the House, and is likely to pass. It faces a likely filibuster in the Senate and a certain veto in the White House. Of course, the Republican Party is gearing up to attack anyone who stands up for workers' rights, targeting Nancy Boyda in particular.

Boyda isn't backing down:

“I have never met an American that doesn’t believe in the right to organize,” she said. “We are a working-family district. I strongly believe that people have a fundamental right to organize and that right has been severely diminished.

“I think Kansans will stand behind me,” she added.

If you agree with Boyda's decision, now is probably a good time to write a letter to your local paper, and maybe to her as well. Representatives of well-paid executives are running radio ads and planning a media blitz over this bill, and people who support working Americans need to make ourselves heard.

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Josh quoting Boyda, "I have never met an American that doesn?t believe in the right to organize,...."

Putting it in those terms, neither have I.

However, I've meet plenty of people who maintain that unions are to blame for automotive plants closing, that unions protect lazy workers, that unions add a huge cost to American automotive companies, that union labor is the reason that American companies are moving their manufacturing off-shore, and that sort of thing.

(For the record, I work in the automotive industry.)

It's not often that I get a chance to question people who maintain these beliefs, but recently I had the opportunity. The core problem that this one fellow had was that a union line-worker, without any higher education, was able to command a higher wage than he was with a 2-year associates degree in CAD.

I offered him a few thoughts.

First, he could work toward creating draftmans/CAD union and then he may be able to use the power of collective bargining to get a reasonable wage for those people who are just starting a career in CAD. His answer to that is one of fear; that his own job would be moved off-shore.

Second, he should remember that unions are responsible for a lot of the workplace improvements we take for granted, like the 40-hour work week. The reason even non-union automotive plants are paying good wages to their line-workers is because of the unions.

Third, being upset at unions for negotiating a higher wage for their line-workers than a person with an associates degree is silly. Whether you rationalize that situation by saying that it's clear that the demand for line-workers is higher than the (available) supply (because the supply is artificially restricted), or that your parents lied to you by suggesting that your level of education will be directly related to your wages, the real complaint is a childish one, 'it's not fair.'

Well, life is not required to be fair. It would be nice if it was more fair, but it isn't.

To be honest, I'm happy to pay someone who spends their days tightening the screws on a dashboard a little more. It may not be hard work in the sense of it requiring a lot of brawn or brain. But it is very tedious work, unlike the job I have now which permits me to stucture my time as I desire and comment on my favorite blogs, so long as the tasks get done. That freedom is what education can allow, but that benefit doesn't need to be reflected in wages.

Sorry, I've slobbered over Josh's blog at length. But unions are, IMHO, a rather important way to balance the inherent advantage employers have over laborers.

Regardless of your stance on unions, this legislation, misnamed the "Employee Free Choice Act" actually takes choice away from employees by denying them the chance to vote on whether or not they want to be unionized. Where is the free choice in that? And the argument that employers can watch who comes to vote and target them based on their appearance is silly. Just because someone shows up to vote doesn't give any indication as to how they voted unless the vote in unanimous, in which case they've got other issues to worry about.

I think the current system works fine, thank you. Just ask the employees of the Whole Foods Market store who voted to unionize and then one year later voted to disband the union. That's free choice right there.

I don't know anything about the Whole Foods case. A quick Google search shows that to have happened in Madison, WI, and I don't know anything else.

The EFCA does not deny a vote. Card check is equivalent to a petition that is filed to run for office, or a voter publicly registering to vote. Once a union is certified, the workers have a choice of rejecting what the union negotiates. The free choice comes in a decision to sign the card or not to sign the card, and in the vote for union leadership, and in the vote for a union contract.

The system does not work fine; there are rampant abuses. Management stands outside meetings for a union vote intimidating workers. As it stands, the intimidation and firing of union supporters denies those workers not only a free choice in representation, but a livelihood. The system is broken and needs to be fixed.