Sunday, April 13, 2008

Employers unite against the Employee Free Choice Act

Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart, is desperate to protect worker's rights against a Democrat-backed labor reform bill likely to pass under the next administration, according to Thurday's Financial Times(1,2). Wal-Mart joins a growing coalition of business groups -- including the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and the US Chamber of Commerce -- dedicated to lobbying against the bill.

"Our members believe this legislation is really detrimental to democracy and freedom of choice," said Jeri Gillespie of the National Association of Manufacturers.

The Employee Free Choice Act would change the way unions gain recognition from employers and the government by requiring majority signatures on membership cards in a workplace. According to organizers, this practice, standard in Canada and Western Europe, would make it harder for employers to disrupt their activity through intimidation and illegal firings.

Under current law, employers can recognize a union if a majority of employees sign a statement of support. However, employers also have the right to request a secret ballot, administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The new law would eliminate this prerogative, which includes "captive audience" meetings with employees to argue against union representation. Employers often hire "union avoidance consultants" to help undermine organizing efforts throughout the ballot process, and utilize the legal system to postpone or reverse the outcomes.

Lee Scott, however, chooses to frame the issue as a profound loss for workers: "It is terribly unfortunate that people are not talking about the fact that you are giving up your right to a secret ballot," he said. In his view, this opens up grave possibilities, such as employees being "subjected to the individual pressure of people calling you and knowing where you stand."

For most workers, the prospect of being fired by their employer for suspected union activity might weigh heavier on their minds than the non-binding judgment of their peers. According to Bruce Raynor of the Unite Here union, "Currently it almost behooves an employer to dismiss union supporters and break the law, because the penalties are so slight."

Nevertheless, the Wal-Mart chief bemoans what he see as the pernicious influence of powerful minority interests in the American workforce: "I think it's just unfortunate that it has become something that has been driven by a small group of people that have just extraordinary political influence."

But according to Rob Green, a lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, there is hope that the combined power of America's largest business lobbies might defeat a bill sponsored by a cabal of working people's organizations, bankrolled by the bottomless pockets of their mostly blue collar members.

"We're looking ahead to 2009. What we're trying to do this year is to educate legislators and the public at large about the details. We think the more the public learns, the less they like it."

1 comment:

Stephen Lentz said...

That would be an amazing piece of legislation of it gets through... the biggest pro-union law since the Wagner Act back in the 1930s. Having worked in union organizing as well, getting through all the company's illegal bullshit is damn near impossible, even when a vast majority of the workers want a union.