The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - UE Political Action Issues Briefing

Issues Briefing
The Employee
Free Choice Act

Restoring our right to join a union!


Labor Law Reform: Long OverdueThe right to organize and belong to a labor union was finally won by working people after a long struggle in the late 1930’s. Passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or “Wagner Act” set up the basic legal framework through which labor-management relations are mediated.

The right to form a union was achieved despite ferocious opposition from employers and their front-men in Congress, and only as a result of the mass labor organizing upsurge, strike waves, and oftentimes bloody industrial conflict of the Great Depression era (not to mention the often-bloody battles extending back into the mid-1800’s).

Most employers reluctantly came to abide by the law that provided for a swift and orderly process by which workers selected their union and bargained union contracts.

But, beginning in the 1970’s – and accelerating right up to the present – more and more employers have chosen to violate the law and prevent or disrupt the organizing attempts of their workforces. These often brazen labor law violations by employers have been aided and abetted by a federal government that has failed miserably to enforce the law.

The Bush Administration made no effort to conceal their anti-worker positions.

Not surprisingly, the number of people able to organize into unions through the current corrupted process is breathtakingly small, despite survey after survey showing 60 percent of Americans like unions!

Employer lawbreaking has resulted in a situation where most union organizing is smashed far in advance of any “secret ballot election” that is held by the government, a fact that our experiences in UE would bear out. And, less than half of those groups of workers who do prevail in union organizing elections ever win a first union contract, again due to employer resistance and lawbreaking.

The NLRA – and the agency charged with its enforcement, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – no longer effectively protects workers rights.

To respond to this human rights catastrophe, the labor movement has worked with members of Congress to introduce sweeping legislation to restore some balance to this arena.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would provide for recognition of a union through an uncoerced card-check process, and would allow for the mediation and arbitration of first contract negotiations. And, for the very first time, the legislation provides for modest fines to be levied on employers who violate the law.

In the previous Congress, the bill was passed by a 241-185 vote in the House of Representatives in March 2007. In June 2007, Senate supporters failed by a 51-48 margin to achieve the 60 votes needed to see the bill proceed to an actual vote for passage. President Bush had promised to veto the EFCA, and no further action was possible.

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The Employee Free Choice Act has been re-introduced into the current Congress. Organized labor – including UE – is mounting a nationwide campaign to push for passage of this critical legislation early in the new Obama administration. Obama has signaled his willingness to sign the EFCA should it reach his desk.

But, the bill will need to pass both the House of Representatives and Senate first, and employers and their lobbying associations are in a frenzy to kill this legislation. With an expanded number of Democrats in the House, passage is assured.

But with Democrats falling short of the 60-vote super majority needed to end debate and pass legislation in the Senate, passage there is in question. Several Republican Senators may be won over to support, but there are several weak Democrats who cannot be trusted to support such sweeping pro-worker legislation.

It is hoped that the House and Senate votes will come in close succession, but an exact time frame is uncertain.

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UE strongly supports the EFCA. Our union has warned of the “labor rights emergency” for several decades now. UE has supported sweeping labor law reform as a key solution to this crisis facing working people even when the bulk of the labor movement refused to do so.

Our union has ample first-hand experience with employers who illegally smash UE organizing drives and deny the basic rights of their employees. The introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act in the current Congress provides working people with a valuable tool to discuss with lawmakers the need for this critical legislative remedy.

The two votes taken in 2007 also help to distinguish friends from foes when it comes to basic rights in the workplace.

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  • Employer claims that the EFCA card check bill is "undemocratic" are bogus. Little, if any democracy exists in the workplace today, and bosses like the current turtle-pace "election" process of the NLRB because it provides them and their union busters with ample time to terrorize workers into opposing their own self interest and voting "no."
  • Corporate claims that they are in favor of "democracy" and the "secret ballot" election in the workplace are ridiculous, even preposterous on their face (when was the last time you heard a boss extolling the virtues of democracy in the workplace?). Unfortunately, most members of Congress and their staffs have had little workplace experiences, and almost none have been participants or even close witnesses to the criminal conduct of companies during organizing drives. This compels unions and workers to set the record straight, and make sure that these absurd claims are refuted with the facts.
  • There is a direct correlation between the time it takes to conduct an NLRB election, and the rate of union success. The longer it takes, the fewer unions are able to win. Bosses and union-busters know every trick there is to slow the process.
  • The decline of wages and living standards for U.S. working people can be directly connected to the destruction of our right to organize and bargain collectively.
  • The rate of union membership in the U.S. has fallen on a trajectory identical to the growth of the union busting industry and the corruption of the NLRB processes.
  • Employers fire, harass, and terrorize thousands of working people each year for attempting to form unions - as many as one in ten workers are fired for trying to organize a union.
  • There are no penalties or fines for employers who break the law during a union organizing drive, which merely invites criminal conduct.
  • Of those groups of workers who manage to win a National Labor Relations Board election, only half of them will win a first union contract; only half of those will go on to win a second union contract.