Talking Points: A Fairer Workplace

Employee Free Choice Act would give employees at a workplace the right to unionize as soon as a majority sign cards saying they want to do so.

Just as the Senate began debate yesterday on the Employee Free Choice Actthousands of union members joined with progressives and key lawmakers to express their hopes of passing a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize. "Under current law, an employer can insist on a secret-ballot election," even after a majority of employees express their desire to organize. The proposed law "would give employees at a workplace the right to unionize as soon as a majority signed cards saying they wanted to do so." In early March, the House issued its strong support for the legislation, passing it with a 241-185 vote. The measure is expected to face a more difficult course in the Senate, where it has so far picked up 47 co-sponsors. "Business groups have mounted a big fight against the bill, with one organization, the Center for Union Facts, spending $500,000 on newspaper and broadcast advertisements this week alone." Senate conservatives and "their business allies are predicting that that they can prevent even an up-or-down vote on the measure." A vote is expected to take place tomorrow in the Senate to stave off the right wing’s efforts. Take a moment to email your senators and urge them to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act (S. 1041).

  • The EFCA gives workers a fairer path to unionization. Employees "often feel intimidated by their employers during unionization drives and so are fearful of losing their jobs." Employers illegally fire employees for union activity in "more than one-quarter of all organizing efforts." Approximately half of employers illegally threaten to close or relocate the business if workers elect to form a union. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service found that even when unions win representation elections, 45 percent of the time they fail to secure contracts from employers. During the course of union drives, employers maintain a disproportionate share of access to the media and to the voters, thus allowing the individuals with the most direct control over hiring and firing decisions to tell "their subordinates in no uncertain terms why a union would be bad for them." Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson writes today, "This kind of hardball resistance to American workers’ attempts to unionize, combined with the decline of manufacturing, has achieved catastrophic success," leading to the the dwindling of America’s once-vibrant middle class.
  • Union workers have better health insurance, higher wages, and safer working conditions. The statistics plainly make the case. When comparing wages alone, union workers on average make 30 percent more. Union workers are more likely to have health care; "in March 2006, 80 percent of union workers in the private sector had jobs with employer-provided health insurance, compared with only 49 percent of nonunion workers." While corporate profits and productivity have been rising since 2001, inequality has also reached alarming levels. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a long-time champion of workers’ rights, explained that one way to address this problem  is "to see that employees get their fair share is to give them a stronger voice."
  • The EFCA will give workers the keys to decide whether they work in a unionized workplace. To generate opposition to the EFCA, conservatives have been spouting the canard that the legislation will strip workers of their right to a secret ballot. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who opposes the EFCA, argued, "This act takes away the right to a secret ballot." In a similar vein, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao writes today in The Wall Street Journal, "It is incredible that interest groups who say they are advocates for workers are striving to end workers’ opportunity to have private union elections." In reality, the EFCA does not abolish elections. It merely shifts the balance of the playing field — from one that is currently tilted overwhelmingly in favor of employers who dictate whether employees can organize, to a process that is instead employee-driven. "Under the proposed legislation, workers get to choose the union formation process — elections or majority sign-up. What the Employee Free Choice Act does prevent is an employer manipulating the flawed system to influence the election outcome." The myths propagated by the right have prompted some Democrats, including Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), to withhold their support for the bill.

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