Friday, March 02, 2007

Why We Fight: Employee Free Choice Act

Yesterday, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would restore workers' freedom to form unions so they can unite to bargain for better pay and benefits for themselves and their families.

In a nutshell, the Employee Free Choice Act would:
  1. Require employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign authorization cards saying they want union representation.
  2. Provide mediation and arbitration if there's a dispute over the first contract.
  3. Strengthen penalties for companies that illegally intimidate employees to prevent them from forming a union.
This bill has been in the House for years, but the Republican Congressional leadership refused to allow it to come up for a vote. Now, with Congress out of Republican hands, legislation that helps working families is moving again.

And that brings us to Representative Randy Kuhl (NY-29).

Back in the days when the Employee Free Choice Act wasn't coming up for a vote, Rep. Kuhl said he supported it. He even co-sponsored the bill. Then, a few days after he won re-election by 2 points in 2006, Kuhl took his name off the bill.

If you were holding out hope that Kuhl would do the right thing and vote for the bill, you were disappointed yesterday. Kuhl voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, one of only two New York Representatives to vote against the bill (Tom Reynolds was the other).

So why did Randy Kuhl tell the working people in his district he would vote for the Employee Free Choice Act and then turn around and vote against it? Kuhl's not saying (though some are speculating that he fears a Republican primary challenge from an opponent even further to the right than he is), but his vote shows that we still have work left to do to make sure New York's Congressional delegation stands up for working families.

The Fighting 29th and Rochester Turning have more.

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Anonymous said...

This bill now allows union organizers and employers to openly intimidate workers who may or may not want a union. When workers vote or decide not to vote in a union, it should be done w/respect to their privacy, just like in national elections. To top it off, now unions can make matters worse for the citizens amongst their rank and file, by allowing illegal aliens to join in the voting for a union. How does allowing illegal aliens who compete for the very jobs American union workers want to maintain, help law-abiding union members who are citizens or legal residents... it doesn't at all.

Steve Perez said...

This is really sad - opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act are reduced to telling lies about the bill because there's no real reason to oppose it, and then they won't even take responsibility for their nonsense so they post anonymously.

At least have the guts to publicly own up to the crap you're spreading.

Anonymous said...

Employee Free Choice Act and Republican Disinformation

Republicans opposing the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act are lying up a storm to swing public opinion against the proposed law. Their primary attack claim is that the bill denies workers a free, fair election by secret ballot. Unfortunately, there is nothing free or fair about the current system of voting on unionization. The law is tilted heavily in favor of company power and against the workers.

I have been involved in an unsuccessful attempt to unionize a business. I saw disturbing examples of intimidation and unfair tactics that the Employee Free Choice Act would have prevented.

Companies are able to hold “captive audience meetings” to argue against unionization. They are legally able to include certain workers and exclude others. Attendance is mandatory for some and prohibited to others. They are held on company time.

Workers trying to unionize are not able to meet on company property without permission of the company. Strong union supporters are usually excluded from “captive audience meetings” so the company position is the only one heard by the workers forced to attend. Sometimes illegal threats or statements are issued at these meetings when the company feels certain that workers attending them will not report them to the federal government.

The burden of proof by law regarding illegal tactics by companies in complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board definitely tilts toward the company. Most companies fail to see violations of labor laws by anti-union “so-called worker committees” (often comprised of quasi-management employees) while pro-union workers are threatened frequently with being fired if suspected of engaging in pro-union activities. The anti-union “so-called worker committees” can operate on company time (which is illegal) without much fear. While most companies will deny knowing about such activity, it seems likely that these companies often secretly organize these anti-union “so-called worker committees” and direct their operations. In almost every case, the company has complete knowledge of their activities.

Supervisors will often threaten employees when no witnesses are present. Threatened workers are often afraid of reporting the threats or do not know the procedure for reporting them. These threats are illegal but very difficult to prove. The company can fire pro-union workers during the election process to intimidate other workers even if the federal government or courts eventually get their jobs back. In the meantime, the union vote will often go against unionization out of fear.

The company will sometimes threaten to close the business or move it if the workers vote for a union. This is illegal but it does happen. It is very difficult to prove. Illegal activity by the company is difficult to prove in part because many companies make rules against bringing recording devices or cameras into the work area. This also makes it difficult to document unsafe working conditions. Workers can lose their jobs trying to document violations of labor or safety laws by the company.

Union organizers and union officials do not have access to company property during the election cycle to discuss the benefits of unionization. They are not supplied with phone numbers of employees although the companies do have that information.

If you distribute any union materials including union pledge cards on company property during working hours, you can and usually will be fired. Pro-union workers are often warned about this even when they are not actively involved in the distribution of pledge cards or materials just to intimidate them from speaking up for unionization.

The current union election system is not fair or free. It is much like the “free elections” held in Communist countries or other dictatorships. The Republicans and their large corporate masters are being completely dishonest in the way they frame the issue and describe the current situation.

Republicans falsely claim that workers are intimidated into signing union pledge cards. This is so rare as to be almost non-existent. The intimidation is almost entirely on the side of the companies. Companies are in a position of power over workers. Co-workers are simply not in a similar power situation. Only the company is really in the kind of power position to intimidate workers.

Criminal behavior influencing union votes is almost always on the side of the company. The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to stop this criminal behavior and all intimidation of workers. The legislation says that if a majority of workers sign pledge cards in favor of unionizing the union will be automatically recognized by law. It is majority rule. It eliminates the opportunity for the company to block the majority desire for unionization by using illegal tactics and intimidation.

A vote against the Employee Free Choice Act is a vote in favor of the current rigged system. It is a vote in favor of company intimidation and illegal company behavior. It is a vote against the workers.

Democrats overwhelmingly support the Employee Free Choice Act. In the House vote, only 2 Democrats voted against the legislation. 13 Republicans voted for the Employee Free Choice Act. The final vote was 241 in favor and 185 against.

Some Senate Republicans may attempt to block a vote on this legislation. If they do, every working American should vote against them. If any Democrat joins them, they should be defeated at the next election. Workers should contact their Senators immediately and let them know their vote on this legislation will determine your vote in the next election.

It has been reported that Cheney has pledged that Bush will veto the Employee Free Choice Act. This is the best reason I can think of for voting Democratic in the 2008 Presidential Election if Bush vetoes this pro-worker legislation.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a vote for worker rights. A vote against it is a vote against worker rights no matter how the Republicans spin it.

Written by Stephen Crockett (co-host of Democratic Talk Radio ). Mail: P.O. Box 283, Earleville, Maryland 21919. Phone: 443-907-2367. Email: .

Feel free to publish or distribute without prior approval.