Friday, March 27, 2009

Blow to Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) of 2009 (H.R. 1409 / S. 560) suffered a critical blow this week. On Tuesday, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced that he would not support the bill. As the only Republican to vote for the bill in 2007, Specter's vote could have been the deciding factor should the bill reach the Senate floor this year. Specter has been under enormous pressure from Republicans after voting in favor of President Obama's $800 million economic stimulus bill, but his opposition to the EFCA is likely to lose him his AFL-CIO endorsement for the midterm elections.

Politico reported that Specter's opposition has given Democrats concerned about making an enemy of Big Business an excuse to oppose the bill unless modifications are made. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not giving up hope and said that other Republicans may be willing to support the bill. The situation looks grim at the moment, and the EFCA may not move forward until after the 2010 midterm elections.

The EFCA is such a highly-contested piece of legislation because of its impact on the way workers can organize. The bill amends the National Labor Relations Act in the following ways:

Streamlines Union Certification
Employees will choose how to organize through “majority sign-up” procedure. Workers may now bypass the union election process if the majority of employees sign union authorization cards (i.e. card check). Workers will, however, still have the option to hold elections and secret ballots should 30% opt for this route.

Facilitates Collective Bargaining Agreements
Parties will meet within 10 days of receiving a written request to establish a union, and will have 90 days to sign a collective bargaining agreement. A federal arbitrator will help mediate the agreement should the parties fail to establish a contract after 90 days. If federal mediation does not result in an agreement then a federal arbitration panel shall create a two-year contract that both sides must accept.

Strengthens Enforcement
An employer that discriminates against an employee while (s)he is seeking union representation shall be subject to a fine of up to $20,000 per violation. The employee will also receive three times in back pay should they be illegally dismissed in relation to union activity.

In 2007, the AAA's Committee on Public Policy (CoPP) produced a policy brief [pdf] highlighting anthropological research on labor issues relevant to the EFCA. CoPP wrote, "Anthropology provides sound evidence for the premises of The Employee Free Choice Act, namely that current organizing processes do not allow employees to express their desire to join unions because: 1) there are insufficient disincentives to managerial lawbreaking in its resistance to unions; and 2) management uses tactics of intimidation and fear to coerce workers to vote against unions."

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