Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Are you ready for the return of labor unions?

Statutes are famous for their creative names. For example, did you know that the [USA] Patriot Act is actual short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act? The Employee Free Choice Act (ECFA) is no exception. After all, in a democracy who's against people having a free choice? If you are an employer of a non-union shop, you best decide that you are against it, and figure out a plan to cope with it if it becomes law.

Under current federal labor law, the tools used to recognize a union as employees' exclusive bargaining representative begin with a employee petition for representation by a union, and in most cases end with a secret ballot election. If more than 30% of employees, but less than a clear majority, sign petition cards requesting representation, the cards are submitted to NLRB to hold a secret ballot election. If more than 50% of employees certify their desire for representation, a union can choose to form based on the cards alone. An employer, however, does not have to recognize the card check petition and can require a secret-ballot vote overseen by the NLRB. Because most, if not all, employers will insist on a secret ballot election if given the opportunity, there are very few unions that end up being certified without an election being held.

The EFCA, however, will change this process by removing the secret ballot election. Under the EFCA, an employer would no longer have the opportunity to demand a secret ballot election. In other words, a majority of cards will be enough to certify a union.

Is there anything less democratic about people not being able to state their opinion via a secret ballot? I can't put it any better than Representative John Kline of Minnesota:


This bill has passed the House, but was held up by a filibuster in the Senate. Regardless, President Bush has already gone on record with a promise to veto it if it ever comes in front of him. Unsurprisingly, Barack Obama is in favor of the EFCA, and John McCain is against it. Even if McCain wins in November, this issue will not go away, as Congressional Democrats will continue to aggressively push for its passage.

For now, and even if the EFCA becomes law, the best defense against a labor union is simply being a good place to work. Having competitive wages and benefits, maintaining open lines of communication between employees and management, making personnel decisions for legitimate, non-arbitrary reasons, and fostering a sense of community all go a long way to deterring employees from even considering brining in a union.