Monday, March 30, 2009

Employee Free Choice Act


You have to hand it to Big Business — they have a lot of nerve. We’re experiencing the worst economic crisis — and the worst economic disparity — in well over a generation. Yet the same CEOs, chambers of commerce and Wall Street banks who brought this upon us now want us to believe that legislation to improve economic fairness is somehow undemocratic.

You’ll pardon me if I don’t believe them right away.

Right on schedule, Big Business is once again getting desperate and is resorting to fear in its efforts to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act. To hear them tell it, you would think that every American was going to lose their civil rights at work if we reform our labor relations laws. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s time to set the record straight.

The corporate spin has two key parts: They say that the new law would take away a worker’s right to vote on whether to join a union and would subject workers to intimidation by unions.

The facts show that both of these claims are disingenuous and patently false.

First, let me be very clear: The Employee Free Choice Act does not do away with the secret ballot election system in union organizing.

It is important to consider a historical perspective on this issue. Current law calls for an election once at least 30 percent of the eligible employees at a workplace have signed cards expressing their desire to join a union. However, prior to a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it was the workers’ choice whether to have an election or to use majority sign-up as the method of forming a union.

Big Business sought the 1974 ruling because it took the choice away from the workers and gave it to the employer. The Employee Free Choice Act merely returns the choice of a secret ballot or majority sign-up back to the worker. If 30 percent of a bargaining unit wants an election under the new law, they can file cards and have one.

Big Business’ second key argument to keep current law warns that the new law would subject workers to union intimidation. Once again, independent data show that this idea is absurd.

According to National Labor Relations Board, there have been only 42 cases alleging intimidation or coercion against unions over the past 70 years. Yet, the board has investigated hundreds of thousands of charges against employers during that same time. In 2007 alone, there were more than 16,000 such cases filed by workers against employers.

Yes, intimidation is undermining America’s labor laws. But the danger clearly flows from Big Business, not labor unions. I am involved in union organizing campaigns every day in North Carolina, so I know, first hand, that managers routinely break the law by using intimidation to stop workers from enjoying the benefits of being union members.

A recent University of Illinois at Chicago study shows that 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers during organizing drives. This creates fear in the workplace, causing many workers to back away from the union. As a result of intimidation, the question of joining a union never even comes to a vote in 40 percent of organizing campaigns.

Of course, Big Business doesn’t want you to know that. They want you to believe their tales of woe. The problem is, they don’t have any credibility left. It’s time to stand up to the corporate bosses and tell them, enough is enough. It’s time to stand up for workers’ rights and support the Employee Free Choice Act.

The writer is president of Teamsters Local 391.

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