Labor laws in America are based on the principle that workers should have the freedom to decide whether to bargain collectively with their employers. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA, HR 800) could change that.
Under current law, union organizers can request an organizing election once 30 percent of a company's workers sign a union authorization card in a "card check." This "show of interest" allows the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) to order a secret ballot election. Once the NRLB certifies the union as the employee's sole representative, the collective bargaining between the employer and the union begins.
The EFCA is an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act and is considered to be organized labor's top legislative priority for 2009. This piece of legislation would change federal law regarding the rights of workers to unionize.
More specifically, it would require employees to form unions by openly signing cards authorizing union representation versus a private ballot. It also establishes harsher penalties for employers who are determined to have violated an employee's rights when they are seeking to form a union and institutes new mediation and arbitration processes for first contract disputes.
The bill was first introduced in the House and the Senate during the 108th, 109th and 110th Congress. It passed the House in March 2007, but was defeated by Republican filibuster in June 2007.
Enter stage left, President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress.
President Obama, an original co-sponsor of the EFCA, supports the bill. During his Senate tenure, he urged his Senate colleagues to pass the bill during a 2007 motion to proceed.
"I will make it the law of the land when I'm president of the United States," he told a labor federation meeting in April 2008. The issue became a major selling point during his speeches before union audiences.
Union supporters contend the act would protect a worker's right to freely choose to join a union, yet only a private vote protects workers and allows them to express their true views. Being required to publicly sign a card negates an employee's right to confidentiality and leaves him or her vulnerable to threats and intimidation. Card checks fail to accurately gauge workers' desire to join a union.
The EFCA would require the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union after a majority of workers signed union cards and would put an end to organizing elections. Under a card check, if organizers collect cards from a majority of workers, all workers must join the union without an opportunity to cast a vote.
The EFCA would also require companies and newly certified unions to enter binding arbitration if they cannot reach an agreement on an initial contract after 90 days of negotiations. The arbitrator's ruling cannot be appealed, and the contract would last for two years.
Abolishing private ballots deprives workers of a fundamental democratic right and leaves them more vulnerable to pressure than ever before.
The Employee Freedom of Choice Act is exactly the opposite of what it is titled.
Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald- Dispatch editorial page.