Argument: Employee Free Choice Act protects unionizing workers from intimidation

Issue Report: Employee Free Choice Act


“US: Support the Employee Free Choice Act”. Human Rights Watch. 27 Feb. 2007 – Human Rights Watch has found that anti-union discrimination is common during NLRB election campaigns. In one case, an employer illegally threatened to cut pay and benefits if workers chose to form a union and fired two key union supporters. A worker told Human Rights Watch that, as a result, “everybody is scared [to organize] now.” The Employee Free Choice Act would go a long way towards closing off this opportunity for employers to undermine workers’ right to organize.

Current US rules governing union election campaigns are unfairly slanted against union supporters and allow employers to use myriad tactics to prevent workers from freely choosing whether to organize. Employers are entitled to argue vigorously against union formation while denying union organizers and advocates a parallel opportunity to present their message. Employers can force workers to attend anti-union captive-audience meetings during work time while prohibiting union organizers from holding similar meetings. And employers can issue a steady anti-union drumbeat during the workday but ban union advocates from the workplace and even from distributing information on sidewalks and in parking areas on employer property.

The failure of US labor law to ensure free and fair union elections can be more fully understood by analogy to political elections. The goal in each case is to create an even playing field and guarantee that people can cast votes free from coercion. The one-sided anti-union campaigning that US labor laws allow during organizing drives would rightly be seen as a travesty of minimum standards of electoral fairness in a political contest where all sides must have “equal opportunity to convey their messages to the electorate” to ensure “[t]he fair and free atmosphere needed for effective political campaigning.” It should be understood as manifestly unfair in workplace elections, as well.

While the Employee Free Choice act would not address existing unbalanced rules on who can speak openly in the workplace about union formation, it would mitigate the rules’ negative impact on workers’ rights and help ensure that workers who wish to form unions can do so. Under current US labor law, employers can refuse to recognize a union and demand an NLRB election even when a majority of workers support union formation as demonstrated by signed worker authorizations—a “card check.”

Deborah Godwin. “Free Choice Act gives power to workers”. Special to The Commercial Appeal. 28 Oct. 2008 – Some 60 million U.S. workers who are not represented by a union say they want one in their workplace. Yet only 15.7 million, or 12.1 percent of all workers, belong to a union.

Why the huge disparity? It’s because employees say they are afraid that they will be fired if they try to organize a union in their workplace, and rightfully so. There is a one in five chance that an active union supporter will be illegally fired for union activity during an organizing campaign, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Lance Compa. “A Shield Against Corporate Bullying”. Washington Post. 27 Feb. 2007 – Current labor law puts employers in control of what should be employees’ concern. Even when by a big majority workers join a union to bargain collectively, employers can force a vote run by the NLRB. During the weeks it takes to set up the election, management can launch a devastating campaign to thwart workers’ choice. Employers say they are just telling employees the downsides of organizing. But they go way beyond that point, hauling workers into mandatory meetings and threatening to shutter the workplace or to permanently replace workers who exercise the right to strike.

Imagine a campaign for president where legally just one candidate can spend an unlimited amount of money for TV advertisements and the other candidate can only pass out flyers at highway intersections. Imagine a campaign for Congress in which every employer in the country can force its employees into a mandatory meeting to tell them: “If you vote for the candidate of Party A, I’ll have to close the business; vote for Party B if you want to keep your job.” Imagine a campaign for governor where every employer in the state singles out and fires employees who support the candidate whom management opposes.

These examples parallel the reality of union election campaigns under current law. Employers have unlimited access to harangue workers against organizing, while union representatives are relegated to passing out flyers to workers speeding out of parking lots and asking time-stressed employees to attend evening or weekend meetings. Employers have unlimited power to hold captive-audience meetings where they can legally “predict” workplace closure, as long as they don’t illegally “threaten” it (a Supreme Court decision created the distinction, though many understandably have trouble differentiating between the two). And though it’s illegal, employers routinely fire worker activists to frighten others into submission, knowing it will take years for reinstatement orders to take effect.

A card-based system for choosing union representation is already allowed under current law. Many fair-minded employers use it. But most nullify it, forcing workers into the NLRB election process. These managements say they need an opportunity to offer their version of union “facts,” but their presentations are often threat-filled diatribes.

Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon. “Why the Employee Free Choice Act Is Good for America”. – Over the last month, both the print and electronic media have been blanketed by ads denouncing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a proposed piece of legislation that would reform the nation’s labor laws and make it easier for private sector workers to obtain union representation. Seeing these ads prompted me to remember a union organizing campaign I coordinated nearly 25 years ago. Reviewing my thick file of documents on this event, I was reminded of the urgent need to reform labor law and counteract the kinds of abuses I saw workers repeatedly experience during my years as a union organizer. My union was asked by the mostly Dominican workers at a New Jersey textile factory to help them organize. They believed that having the union would enable them to negotiate improvements in their wages and benefits and protect them from arbitrary treatment by their bosses.

What followed was a series of actions by the employer that can with no exaggeration be described as a reign of terror. After a secret ballot election that resulted in a tie vote, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board found the employer guilty of the following labor law violations in the weeks preceding the balloting: inducing workers to spy on their fellow employees and report on their union activity, coercively interrogating workers about their union sympathies, threatening to close the plant if the workers voted for a union, reducing or discontinuing customary overtime work for pro-union employees, transferring pro-union voters to undesirable shifts, and discharging several key members of the union’s organizing committee.

Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon. “Why the Employee Free Choice Act Is Good for America”. – The labor board attorney who presented the case concisely summarized the impact of the employer’s efforts: “If the [labor board’s’] goal is [to conduct secret ballot elections] under ‘laboratory conditions,’ this laboratory was devising a system for pure, unfettered coercive conditions undiluted by any element of lawful conduct. Under these conditions it is amazing that [the union] garnered as many votes as it did. (my italics).”

All too often, as the experience of workers has repeatedly affirmed and numerous governmental and academic studies have documented, employers use these kinds of tactics to deter workers from unionizing. By the time most workers cast their secret ballots in private sector union representation elections, the atmosphere has been thoroughly poisoned and resembles the circumstances under which elections are conducted in dictatorships or one-party states. Moreover, the penalties for illegal behavior are minimal, and frequently, employers

The Employee Free Choice Act. Communications Workers of America – Each year, more than 20,000 workers are illegally fired or discriminated against for exercising attempting to organize. Many employers make an art of it – hiring union busting “consultants” to help defeat organizing drives. And even if employees overcome all the odds, in one-third of all union election victories, workers still do not have a collective bargaining agreement two years after the election.