Employee Free Choice Act

While it is easy to lose sight of all the issues fought over in the recent Presidential election, an interesting debate was started over the Employee Free Choice Act. On the campaign trail, both parties issued a number of statements regarding the legislation, but did not explain much to the American people as to how this act would affect working individuals. President Elect Barack Obama has supported this act, stating that he believes it is in the best interest of workers to be able to organize and effectively promote change, while John McCain opposed this act, calling it a “gross deception” and that it will harm the American work force.

The act, which currently sitting in Congress waiting to become law, is an amendment to NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS ACT passed in 1935 seeking to create a system that makes it easier for individuals to organize and create unions in the workplace. Proponents of the bill say that employees’ rights to unionize are greatly impeded by employers as well as the courts. These groups, such as the AFL -CIO and the Service Employees International Union advocate for employees to organize and unionize effectively by forming unions when a majority of the members sign up using a process known as a card check. In this situation, a majority of employees sign cards and can then begin the process of organizing. Currently, unions can form only by secret ballot elections. Under the law as it stands, an employer does not have to recognize the card check and can demand secret ballots, which is part of what this legislation is trying to correct. This legislation would not take away the traditional secret ballots, which have been used for sometime, but rather add the process of the card check to make organizing a union more efficient and effective.

Another provision of the law is to increase damages for employers who discriminate against pro-union employees, demanding back pay and other damages for individuals negatively affected by organizing efforts. According to the AFL-CIO, 25% of employers have terminated an employee for union activity, while more than half of employees threaten to shut down or close shop while employees are in the process of unionizing. Employees see this as worker intimidation meant to keep unions out of the workplace, and demands updates to the National Labor Relations Act.

Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act, such as the Heritage Foundation take issue with the removal of the traditional secret ballot as a means to vote on organizing, long seen as way to minimize intimidation and allow for a more democratic process. Many pro-union, but anti legislation critics argue that a card check would open employees up to much more intimidation and discrimination, as opposed to a secret ballot election. Another objection to the bill is that its provisions regarding federal mediation would create an unnecessary intrusion of Government in the affairs of business. There are also arguments from the pro-business side that the new damages for firing union employees would hurt business even further by enacting higher penalties.

While both sides of this divisive issue make their case, the act may never reach law- President Bush has vowed to veto this act if it were to make it to his desk. However, given the pro-labor and union policies of Barack Obama, we may see this act make its way through Congress and into law following after his inauguration in 2009.