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Employee Free Choice Act: restoring the right of U.S. workers to organize unions

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, March 22, 2007

By Bill McCarthy, President, Minneapolis CLUC

The nation now is engaged in a fundamental debate about the right of U.S. workers to organize labor unions. The Employee Free Choice Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives March 1 and soon will be taken up by the U.S. Senate.

In the meantime, the proposed legislation now is facing an onslaught of attacks from anti-union business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. These organizations, along with their allies, are attempting to sway public sentiment with an effort placing opinion pieces in newspapers large and small across the nation — reaching in our own area, for example, the Star Tribune, Rochester Post-Bulletin and even the Annandale Advocate (weekly circulation 2,700 copies).

These attacks on the Employee Free Choice Act share a common approach.

First, they distract from the issues at stake by resorting to name-calling: calling the proposed legislation “Orwellian” or “brazenly mis-named” or worse.

Next, they profess to speak in defense of workers’ rights by claiming that the current system of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections provides workers a choice about whether or not to join unions and protects workers through “secret ballot elections” that are “government-supervised.”

In fact, as workers in Minnesota and across the nation know too well, the current system of NLRB elections is a one-sided fight. The weeks leading up to a union election subject workers to mandatory meetings called by the employer to espouse anti-union rhetoric, to one-on-one meetings with supervisors seeking to sway their vote, to plant-closing threats, and to other intimidation by employers.

Those well-documented abuses are why unions and our supporters in Congress have proposed the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill provides a prompt, fair, open and direct process to gauge employee sentiment on union representation. If a majority of employees in a workplace sign union authorization cards, the chosen union can present a petition of certification to the National Labor Relations Board. The Board would investigate the petition and, if warranted, would certify the union without an election. This road to union recognition was the common practice in the early years of the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, federal legislation protecting workers’ right to organize.

In the anti-union opinion pieces opposing the Employee Free Choice Act, however, you won’t read about employer abuses under the current system of NLRB elections. Nor will you read about the long history of the majority sign-up process. Nor will you read how current law gives employers the right to veto the wishes of workers expressed through signed union authorization cards. Current law allows employers to insist on a NLRB election — which is why they’re opposing change.

You can help make change. Contact your members of Congress. And if you see attacks on the Employee Free Choice Act in your local newspaper, write a letter to the editor. At stake: the right to organize unions, the right to good wages and benefits, the preservation of America’s middle class.

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