Employee Free Choice Act

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The Employee Free Choice Act is a piece of legislation which would change federal law with regards to the rights of workers to unionize. Specifically, it would allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation, establish harsher penalties for employers who violate employee rights when workers seek to form a union, and institute new mediation and arbitration processes for first-contract disputes. It was introduced in both the House and Senate during the 108th, 109th, and 110th Congress. It passed in the House on March 1, 2007 for the first time, but was filibustered by Senate Republicans in June 2007.

Many organizations, including the AFL-CIO, have supported the bill.

Current status

This article has information on related action opportunities for citizens in the related campaigns section.

In the 110th Congress the Employee Free Choice Act was filed as H.R.800. <USbillinfo congress="110" bill="H.R.800" />

Bill summary

The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act to require the following [1]

  • Certification on the basis of majority sign-up: Would provide for certification of a union as the bargaining representative of a unit of employees if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of those employees have signed authorization cards designating the union as its bargaining representative. In addition, it would require the board to develop authorization language and procedures for establishing the validity of signed authorizations. [2]

    At the time the bill was introduced, a group of workers hoping to unionize were required to sign authorization cards indicating that fact. Once 30% of potential members signed the cards, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would then schedule a supervised election in which members would vote on whether or not to unionize. Even in cases where large majorities of potential members expressed a desire to unionize, the election process could still be ordered.[3]

    A company had the legal ability to allow its workers to have union representation (without going through the NLRB) if a majority of potential members supported unionization. The Employee Free Choice Act would make this recognition mandatory, taking away a company's ability to force a majority of potential members to go through the NLRB election process.[4]
  • First-contract mediation and arbitration: Would declare that if an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for their first contract and are unable to reach an agreement within 90 days, either party may refer the dispute to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) for mediation. If the FMCS was then unable to bring the parties to agreement after 30 days of mediation, the dispute would be referred to arbitration, and the results of the arbitration would be binding on the parties for two years. These time limits could be extended, however, if both parties agreed to do so. [5]
  • Stronger penalties for violations while employees are attempting to form a union or attain a first contract: Violations of the National Labor Relations Act would now face the following punishments. [6]:
    • Civil fines of up to $20,000 per violation against employers found to have willfully or repeatedly violated employees’ rights during an organizing campaign or first-contract drive. [7]
    • An increase in the amount an employer is required to pay when an employee is discharged or discriminated against during an organizing campaign or first-contract drive to “three times back pay." [8]

Bill passed by the House in March 2007

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the Employee Free Choice Act in the House at the beginning of the 110th Congress on February 5, 2007, near the . By the end of February, it had collected 233 cosponsors, and been placed on the House calendar. Miller previously introduced the bill in both the 108th and 109th Congresses, but it never received a floor vote.[9]

In early February 2007, Vice-President Dick Cheney, at a breakfast meeting of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in Washington, D.C., said President Bush would veto the bill if it reached his desk. [10]

On March 1, the House passed the bill, 241-185, in a largely party-line vote. Following the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "It's simply about establishing fairness in the workplace." Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who opposed the bill, said the real purpose of the measure was "taking care of union bosses." [11]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="house" rollcall="118" />

The only two Democrats who opposed the bill were Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), while 13 Republicans supported it: Don Young (R-Alaska), James Walsh (R-N.Y.), Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), John McHugh (R-N.Y.), Tim Murphy (R-Penn.), Thad McCotter (R-Mich.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), and Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.).[12]

Senate consideration

On March 2, the bill was placed on the Senate calendar. [13]

On March 3, 2007, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) predicted that the Senate would pass the bill, although he acknowledged that President Bush would likely veto it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, said he would attempt to block the measure in the Senate. [14]

On June 20, 2007, an expected vote on the bill was delayed due to disagreement over comprehensive energy legislation. The anticipated vote would be expected to fail due to united Republican opposition, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-nev.) had promised union leaders to attempt a vote.[15]

On June 26, 2007, the bill stalled in the Senate after failing to reach the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. The tally, which was 51-48, was strongly divided along party lines. Every Senate Democrat and two independents stood behind labor, and among the Republicans, only Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) broke ranks.[16]

<USvoteinfo year="2007" chamber="senate" rollcall="227" />

Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, commented on the block, "Republican senators have shown once again that they do not understand the very real economic concerns of America's middle-class families. They continue to vote for the special interests and against American workers."[17]

Criticisms and commendations

Arguments in favor of the bill

Protection from management threats

AFL-CIO button in support of the Employee Free Choice Act

As stated above, at the time the bill was introduced, a group of workers hoping to unionize were required to sign authorization cards indicating that fact (unless a company voluntarily allowed its workers to unionize). Once 30% of potential members signed the cards, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would then schedule a supervised election in which members would vote on whether or not to unionize. Even in cases where large majorities of potential members expressed a desire to unionize, the election process could still be ordered.[18]

Supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act argued that during the weeks (or months) it took to set up the election, management often conducted efforts to dissuade workers from organizing. Many workers reported being threatened with replacement if they ever (as part of a union) chose to strike. Others claimed that employers “predicted” future workplace closures, which under current law was legal so long as they did not “threaten” it. In some cases, employers were even reported to have fired worker activists in an attempt to deter future unionization efforts, knowing it would take years for reinstatement orders to take effect. [19]

State of workers declining; steps to ensure unionization necessary

During hearings on the bill in the 110th Congress, Nancy Schiffer, associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO, argued the bill was necessary because of the dimishining status of working-class citizens in the U.S. She stated [20]:

"Why does this matter? Economic inequality is the hallmark of our time. Wages have stagnated. Only 38 percent of Americans say their families are getting ahead. Less than a quarter say they expect the next generation’s standard of living will be better than today. Six million fewer Americans have health insurance today than in 1995. Meanwhile, corporations are reaping unprecedented profits. Corporate CEOs earned 262 times as much as the average workers in 2005 – up from 35 times more in 1978.[21]

Collective bargaining is the best opportunity that working men and women have to

achieve individual opportunity, restore economic fairness and rebuild America’s middle class. Union workers earn 30% more than non-union workers. For women and workers of color, the union wage advantage is even higher: 31% for women, 36% for African-Americans and 46% for Latinos. Collective bargaining helps to narrow race and gender wage gaps. The union advantage extends to health care coverage and retirement benefits. Union workers are 63% more likely to have medical and health insurance through their jobs. Union workers are nearly four times as likely to have a guaranteed pension, and 77% more likely to have jobs that provide short-term disability benefits. Workers in low-wage occupations such as childcare workers, cooks, housekeeping cleaners and cashiers, have been able to raise their earnings above the poverty line through collective bargaining. Collective bargaining provides an opportunity for workers to bargain for a better future."[22]

Public support

In support of the bill, the AFL-CIO also noted a poll showing that more than three-quarters of Americans (77%) support strong laws giving employees the freedom to make their own choice about whether to have a union in their workplace without interference from management. [23]

The Employee Free Choice Act enjoyed wide support of labor organizations, and many others. Supporters included: [24]

Arguments against the bill

Some opponents have argued that the authorization cards which potential members would sign to express their desire to unionize are not in the interest of workers. They cite the fact that they would not be confidential, whereas the existing law allowed the vote (to hold an election) to be confidential. These opponents say the openness of the cards subject workers to peer pressure, harassment, coercion, and misrepresentation. [26]

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), an opponent of the bill, stated "It is beyond me how one can possibly claim that a system whereby everyone – your employer, your union organizer, and your co-workers – knows exactly how you vote on the issue of unionization gives an employee 'free choice . . . . It seems pretty clear to me that the only way to ensure that a worker is 'free to choose' is to ensure that there's a private ballot, so that no one knows how you voted. I cannot fathom how we were about to sit there today and debate a proposal to take away a worker's democratic right to vote in a secret-ballot election and call it 'Employee Free Choice.'" [27]

Opponents have also criticized the bill because it allows workers to make their decision to unionize before employers have the opportunity to tell them why it is not in their best interest. [28]

Heritage Foundation's argument against the EFCA

In an article highlighting the flaws of the Employee Free Choice Act, writers from the Heritage Foundation explained their opposition to the bill.

"The Employee Free Choice Act would strip American workers of their right to a private-ballot vote, require companies to submit to binding arbitration, and increase penalties for unfair labor practices committed by employers but not by unions. Each of these provisions would be bad for American workers."[29]

"Congress should instead protect the privacy of American workers and guarantee their right to vote in an election before joining a union. Congress should also guarantee every worker the opportunity to hear arguments from both sides and time to reflect before voting."[30]

More specifically, they argued that the Act would:

Hinder worker voting rights: Rather than holding a secret-ballot election, the EFCA would institute a card check system, creating a union if a majority of workers submitted cards requesting that one be created. These cards would not protect the identity of submitters, making it clear who was in favor and who was against the creation of a union. Supporters of the EFCA, Heritage Foundation writers argued, offered misleading information when saying that secret-ballot elections would still occur, as union organizers would choose the way such elections would be organized.[31]

Leave workers vulnerable to intimidation: By removing the secret-ballot system, unions and employers would be aware of which employees wanted to create a union and which ones didn't. This would pave the way for intimidation efforts from both the unions and employers.[32]

Give unions an unfair advantage in negotiations with employers: Because the card signing drives are put together by union organizers, employees would be given a one-sided pitch, and put into a high-pressure signing situation. The Heritage Foundation quoted one former union organizer saying,[33]

"We rarely showed workers what an actual union contract looked like because we knew that it wouldn't necessarily reflect what a worker would want to see. We were trained to avoid topics such as dues increases, strike histories, etc. and to constantly move the worker back to what the organizer identified as his or her "issues" during the first part of the house call."[34]

Force flawed binding arbitration: The EFCA would require that a binding arbitration be required in the event that union and employer negotiations reached an impasse. Independent arbitrators, writers from the Heritage Foundation argued, could be a very useful tool for resolving disputes, however, binding arbitration leaves unions and employers at the unpredictable whims of an arbitration panel, "leaving management and workers to deal with the consequences."[35]

Organizations opposed to the bill

[36]

Past legislation

108th Congress

On November 21, 2003, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in the House, where it collected 209 cosponsors. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, and never received a vote on the floor. [37] Also on November 21, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the bill in the Senate, where it was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and ultimately collected 37 cosponsors. Like the House version, it never received a vote on the floor. [38]

109th Congress

On April 19, 2005, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the bill in the House. It was referred to the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations and ultimately received 214 cosponsors. It was not, however, called to the floor for a vote. [39] Also on April 19, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the bill in the Senate. It was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and ultimately received 44 cosponsors. Like the House version, it never received a floor vote. [40]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  2. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  3. Julius Steiner, Esq., "Viewpoint -- Employee Free Choice Act Puts A Target On The Back Of Manufacturers," Industry Week, October 16, 2006.
  4. Julius Steiner, Esq., "Viewpoint -- Employee Free Choice Act Puts A Target On The Back Of Manufacturers," Industry Week, October 16, 2006.
  5. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  6. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  7. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  8. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  9. AFL-CIO: Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act
  10. Mike Hall, "Cheney and NAM Want to Protect Workers? Yeah, Right!" AFL-CIO, February 14, 2007.
  11. "House Passes Pro-Union Bill," Time, March 1, 2007.
  12. "OpenCongress page on House Vote," OpenCongress.
  13. THOMAS page on the Senate version on the bill
  14. "Obama says Senate will pass union-backed organization measure," Boston Herald, March 4, 2007.
  15. John Stanton, "Immigration Bill Postponed," Roll Call, June 21, 2007.
  16. Joel Havemann. "Senate Republicans block union bill," Los Angeles Times. June 27, 2007.
  17. Joel Havemann. "Senate Republicans block union bill," Los Angeles Times. June 27, 2007.
  18. Julius Steiner, Esq., "Viewpoint -- Employee Free Choice Act Puts A Target On The Back Of Manufacturers," Industry Week, October 16, 2006.
  19. Lance Compa, "A Shield Against Corporate Bullying," Washington Post, February 26, 2007.
  20. "Testimony of Nancy Schiffer, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO, Before the Subcommittee of Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions," U.S. House, February 8, 2007.
  21. "Testimony of Nancy Schiffer, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO, Before the Subcommittee of Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions," U.S. House, February 8, 2007.
  22. "Testimony of Nancy Schiffer, Associate General Counsel, AFL-CIO, Before the Subcommittee of Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions," U.S. House, February 8, 2007.
  23. 10 Key Facts about the Employee Free Choice Act
  24. Who Supports the Employee Free Choice Act?
  25. Young Democrats of America, "YDA National Resolution", Young Democrats of America website, undated, accessed September 2009.
  26. "Reasons to oppose Employee Free Choice Now," Townhall.com, January 17, 2007.
  27. "Former Union Organizer Details Tactics of “Manipulating Workers Just to Get a Majority on ‘the Cards’," House Committee on Education and Labor, February 8, 2007.
  28. *"Reasons to oppose Employee Free Choice Now," Townhall.com, January 17, 2007.
  29. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  30. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  31. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  32. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  33. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  34. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  35. James Sherk and Paul Kersey, "How the Employee Free Choice Act Takes Away Workers' Rights," The Heritage Foundation, April 23, 2007.
  36. AFL-CIO: The Attack on the Employee Free Choice Act
  37. Thomas page on H.R.3619 (109th Congress)
  38. Thomas page on S.1925 (108th Congress)
  39. Thomas page on H.R. 1696 (109th Congress)
  40. Thomas page on S.842 (109th Congress)

External resources

External articles