Who's Afraid of the Employee Free Choice Act?

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Common Dreams

Who's Afraid of the Employee Free Choice Act?

The Employee Free Choice Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation being considered by the new Congress, yet many people have probably never heard of it. If they have, they have most likely heard the version that corporate America and right-wing want them to hear: that the bill would deny employees the right to vote in workplace elections and leave them exposed to coercion by unscrupulous union organizers. It's a good line, but nothing could be further from the truth. The entire purpose of the Employee Free Choice Act is to defend employee choice and protect them from the employer intimidation and harassment that is currently endemic in the American workplace when employees attempt to form a union.

So who's behind the well-financed and well-organized campaign of misinformation against the Employee Free Choice Act? One of the groups leading the offensive is the comically misnamed Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The Coalition has announced its intention to 'fight this legislation every step of the way to make sure that it never rears its head again.' Although it claims to represent ordinary employees, the Coalition is, in fact, made up entirely of powerful corporate groups and trade associations who oppose giving employees the right to choose a union free from employer interference Another group that has run television commercials and newspaper ads attacking the Employee Free Choice Act is the Center for Union Facts, run by the notorious lobbyist, Richard Berman, whose previous campaigns include ones in favor of relaxing drunk driving laws and discounting public health concerns about obesity. Berman's in good company. Other Employee Free Choice Act opponents include the National Right to Work Committee, another well-funded anti-union group that claims to represent ordinary employees but is, in reality, bankrolled by powerful corporations and conservative foundations.

Also mobilizing vigorously against the Employee Free Choice Act is the sizable and sophisticated industry of 'union avoidance' law firms and consultants. These firms have made millions of dollars by encouraging employers to conduct aggressive (and often illegal) campaigns against efforts by their employees to organize. Among developed nations, the United States is alone in having a powerful industry dedicated to undermining employees' right to form a union. If the Employee Free Choice Act were to become law, these firms stand to lose enormous sums because they would no longer be able to conduct their no-holds-barred campaigns based on fear and coercion.

One of the largest union avoidance law firms in the nation, Jackson Lewis ' which tells employers to treat attempts by employees to form a union as 'war' ' has described the campaign against EFCA as 'the battle beginning.' Another law firm specializing in anti-union campaigns, Ogletree Deakins, believes that it is 'imperative that the business community act now' to defeat this 'extreme' legislation.

And the list goes on. Many more groups oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, all of them the representatives of powerful and well-financed corporate interests and right-wing organizations, none of them the representatives of ordinary employees. Several of these groups have stated that defeating the bill is a top priority and have announced their intention to punish any member of Congress who dares to vote against them. Predictably, the Bush Administration is committed to defeating the Employee Free Choice Act. Vice President Cheney recently assured a group of corporate leaders that the President will veto the legislation if Congress were to pass it.

According to the NLRB annual report, over 31,000 employees were fired or discriminated against in 2005 simply for supporting a union. The powerful groups that oppose the Employee Free Choice Act never mention this appalling state of affairs. The Employee Free Choice Act would impose greater penalties on employers who fire workers for choosing a union. The bill also ensures that employees who form a union would at least gain a first contract. Union avoidance law firms advise employers to keeping fighting after employees form a union, telling them, 'You haven't lost until you sign a contract.' As a result, over one third of new unions are unable to win a first contract. The Employee Free Choice Act would change that sorry situation.

Finally, the most inconvenient fact for opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act: studies demonstrate that there are now 60 million Americans who would like to join a union but who are unable to do so under the current system of sham workplace elections that allows employer intimidation to flourish. The Employee Free Choice Act would protect the rights of those 60 million Americans against the powerful organizations that are mobilizing against it. And that's why passing the Employee Free Choice Act is the number one priority for those who believe that workers deserve the right to form a union free from coercion and harassment.

John Logan

John Logan is Director and Professor of Labor Studies at San Francisco State University, and a research associate at the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

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