To no one’s surprise, the Employee Free Choice Act passed in the House yesterday.
The measure would represent one of the most significant revisions of federal labor law in 60 years. It is the top legislative priority of the labor movement, which represents a record low 12 percent of the workforce, compared with 35 percent in the 1950s. Major business lobbies have mobilized against it to a level not seen since the fight over Bush’s 2001 tax cuts, according to a Chamber of Commerce official. Yesterday’s 241 to 184 vote was largely along party lines, with 13 Republicans voting for the measure and two Democrats opposing it.
The real fight will come in the Senate where Republicans, representing the corporatocracy as always, have promised to filibuster to prevent its passage. Their primary argument for public purposes is that the EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot, “a cornerstone of democracy”. It’s by far the best argument they could make against the law even though it’s bogus. In what has become a standard GOP tactic, it makes them sound as if they’re protecting workers’ rights even as they vote to take them away.
The irony here is that if the Bush Administration, particularly its Labor and Justice Depts, were doing their jobs, which they’re not, this bill wouldn’t be necessary. But Labor and Justice are both anti-union, as is Bush – who has promised to veto the bill if it ever reaches him – and corporations have been getting away with murder in terms of blatant violations of labor laws.
Intimidation of organizers and employees, the firing of employees who are vocal about wanting a union, spreading lies about what unions are and what they do, these have all become SOP and they’re all illegal. Not one corporate executive or manager has ever gone to jail for any of these illegal practices, and the occasional fines have been so low as to be laughable. Elaine Chao’s version of the Labor Dept even went so far as to offer tips to corporations on how to keep unions out – also probably illegal, btw.
The EFCA is on the table only because the refusal of Republican administrations and the Republican Congress to enforce labor laws has so badly skewed the labor landscape in favor of employers that it’s virtually impossible these days to hold a union election at all. The card-check system makes that process a little easier by removing one of the roadblocks that corporations have built between unions and employees. That’s why they’re fighting it. It has nothing to do with a concern for the secret ballot (which they once upon a time fought just as hard).
In yesterday’s debate, Democrats cited National Labor Relations Board statistics showing that more than 31,000 workers were awarded back pay in 2005 for unfair labor practices. The numbers have risen steadily in the past three decades, from 7,393 in 1975 to 18,434 in 1985 and 26,197 in 1995, according to NLRB annual reports. The House measure would also impose stiff penalties on employers for unfair labor practices and would require federal arbitration to reach labor contracts if newly certified unions and employers do not reach agreement within 90 days.
According to the SEIU, some 23,000 employees have been either fired or punished for trying to form a union.
Some 57 million U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could. But when workers try to gain a voice on the job, employers often respond with intimidation, harassment and retaliation.
In fact, workers who support a union are fired in 25 percent of private-sector union election campaigns. American workers who want to unite to improve their lives need stronger laws to support the basic freedom to choose to form a union.
Actually, the biggest advantage to a card-check law is that, once put in place, it doesn’t need to be enforced. Accepting card-checks is a system that goes around many of the employer’s favorite intimidation tactics. There would be no reason for legal intervention, as there is now.
Although this is certainly a welcome and necessary first step, the corporatocracy is arrayed against it in full force.
The business community’s campaign was led by a coalition of 300 business organizations in all 50 states, calling itself the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The group aired radio ads calling the legislation anti-worker and antidemocratic, and said its efforts generated 27,000 contacts of House members from within the targeted districts.
The Senate, if they vote on party lines, may be unable to pass the bill and certainly wouldn’t be able to overcome a presidential veto, so its fate isn’t looking too positive. VP Cheney has already denounced it and will, in the case of a close vote, no doubt make one of his rare appearances on the Senate floor to break a potential tie.
(Parenthetically, one of the vice president’s Constitutional obligations is presiding over the Senate, and Cheney has made fewer visits to the Senate than any VP in history. It would be interesting to know just how few. I can only remember about three in almost 7 years. Isn’t that dereliction of duty or something?)
The EFCA bill has a long way to go with the Senate Pubs standing firm for their Corporate Masters and the corporatocracy ready to spend $$$millions$$$ to defeat it. It stands no chance at all if the business-friendly Blue Dog Dems bolt to vote with the Pubs.