The battle for labour law reform in the United States continues to drag on, with the corporate special interest lobby frothing at the mouth about the prospects of having to bargain collective agreements with unions. There is an interesting piece in Harpers this month describing the efforts of the corporate lobby group to stop the legislation. This piece exposes the hysterical reactions to the legislation by corporate America, including such stalwarts of employee rights as Wal-Mart. The CEO of Home Depot is quoted referring to the EFCA as ‘the demise of civilization’.
This is all nonsense and corporate spin, of course. All the legislation would do is implement the model of labour relations we used in most of Canada for 50 odd years without our democracy crumbling. Its main contribution would be to allow unions to be certified when a majority of workers express a written confirmation of their desire to move from the individual employment model, in which the employer effectively sets the terms and conditions of employment unilaterally, to a model in which the workers join together and bargain a collective employment contract aided by a professional union negotiator. For obvious reasons, employers prefer the model in which they get to set conditions of employment unilaterally, aided by a common law ‘at will’ model that allows them to dismiss workers for any reason at all (or no reason) with no notice. So it’s easy to see why employers don’t want the EFCA. But to suggest that the legislation is anti-democratic or apocalyptic is pure hyperbole.
Here’s a nice summary from the Harper’s piece of the situation that the EFCA seeks to remedy:
Although the business lobby has framed its opposition to EFCA around the issues of the “secret ballot” and labor “coercion,” the current rules give management a chokehold over union elections. Employers can require that workers attend “captive audience” meetings, that is, anti-union presentations during the workday at which union supporters are forbidden to speak. Firing of union activists and intimidation of employees during organizing drives are routine practices and have been encouraged by lax enforcement of the law: according to the NLRB’s most recent annual report, it took an average of about eighteen months for administrative-law judges to rule on charges of unfair labor practices. In the uncommon cases where an employer is found guilty of illegally firing or demoting a worker, the firm typically needs only to reinstate the worker and pay back wages, minus any income the worker may have earned in the interim. With delays so long and penalties so minor, as the group Human Rights Watch noted in a recent report, companies often regard fines as “a cost of doing business”—a small price to pay for defeating worker organizing efforts.
Truth is, corporate American has created the need for this sort of legislation by its blatant willingness to break the law in order to prevent employees from joining the union. If union certification votes were actually ‘fair’–meaning unions and employers have equal or near equal access to the employees to communicate their message and employers did not commonly threaten, intimidate, or dismiss workers who support unions (see study discussed here, noting that 57% (!) of American employers threaten to fire everyone if the union wins the vote)–then there would be no need for a EFCA. But American employers do not actually want a ‘fair’ vote. They want a vote in which the employees vote against unionization, and a system the encourages that outcome. This is precisely what the current NLRA model does.