Proposed EFCA Ruffles Feathers in Manufacturing and Construction Sectors
As the U.S. unemployment rate pushed beyond the envelope of 8%, with several states suffering rates in the double-digits, Congressional leaders have launched efforts to create some form of safety net for workers. There are dour expectations that the number of unemployed Americans could reach the 7 million mark rather quickly, with blue collar positions continuing to be the frontline victims.
To push more workers under the security umbrella of unions, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), referred to as the "card check" bill, has been introduced. The bill has opposition from leaders in manufacturing, construction and other union-dominated industries because it would make it more efficient and easier for employees to form or join labor organizations, as well as provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices and establish heftier fines for employers found guilty of violating workers' rights to unionize. The bicameral bill, introduced by Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee Rep. George Miller (D-CA), along with Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), wants more American workers to enjoy the benefits and security of belonging to a labor union during the economic downturn.
"We face a severe economic crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression," said Kennedy. "The causes of this crisis are not a mystery. Year after year, we accepted an economy that sent stock prices soaring, but left ordinary families behind. Our productivity grew, but workers never saw the benefits."
Kennedy stressed that union workers enjoy wages that are 30% higher than non-union workers. Just as important is that 80% of union workers have health insurance, compared to only 49% of non-union workers. With growing apprehension about the struggles Americans will face in their "golden years," Kennedy also pointed out that union workers are four times more likely to have a secure, guaranteed pension.
"Americans' wages have been stagnating or falling for the past decade. For far too long, we have seen corporate CEOs take care of themselves and shareholders at the expense of workers," said Miller. "If we want a fair and sustainable recovery from this economic crisis, we must give workers the ability to stand up for themselves and once again share in the prosperity they help to create."
For industry leaders, the bill is seen as nothing more than a torpedo to success and recovery. The bill has provisions that would give state workers the right to choose to hold a secret ballot vote on union formation or through majority vote of union authorized cards. As it stands now, employers can veto the majority sign-up and mandate a National Labor Relation Board (NLRB) election process, which Congressional leaders feel is slanted towards employers. The proposed "card check" bill also establishes a timeline that if a first contract drawn between workers and employers does not reach a deal within 120 days, an arbitration panel will be called in to hand down a decision that will be binding for two years.
"It is deeply disturbing that some in Congress would attempt to add yet another hardship to America's workers by seeking to deprive them of the right to a free, fair and private vote," said the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). "The legislation also takes important business decisions away from workers and employers and puts them into the hands of Washington-appointed arbitrators with little to no experience in construction."
John Engler, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), said, "If passed, EFCA would destroy jobs and place an even heavier burden on large and small companies." He cited research done by economist Dr. Ann Layne-Farrar, LECG Consulting, that showed for every 3% gained in union membership through card checks and mandatory arbitration, there would be a 1% increase in unemployment the following year. Using the legislators' assumption that the bill would add 1.5 million union members this year, there would be 600,000 jobs shed in 2010 as a result.
"EFCA is a dramatic departure from long-established labor law," added Engler. "It deprives employees of the privacy of the secret ballot, which has always been an integral part of the democratic process."
Matthew Carr, NACM staff writer