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Labor working for Employee Free Choice Act

The Employee Free Choice Act - opponents call it the forced choice act, arguing the legislation would give labor a disproportionately heavy hand in organizing - would bring sweeping change to the 73-year-old National Labor Relations Act. It would spell hope for labor and anathema to many business interests.

An Obama win meant everything to labor, because Sen. John McCain is an ardent opponent of the legislation, and labor’s ground game was impressive: Unions spent about $450 million in the election, and the effort was particularly helpful in battleground states. In all, union members connected with 13 million voters in 24 states, in the process selling the Employee Free Choice Act along with the Democratic ticket.

Labor working for Employee Free Choice Act
George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, November 16, 2008

 
The 250,000 volunteers from AFL-CIO unions around the country may still be hoarse and weary from the dogged stretch effort to get out the vote for Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, but they’re taking a victory lap. Labor feels much more confident that their top legislative priority - a bill that would make organizing workers substantially easier - will be passed and signed.

The Champagne will have to stay on ice, however, because the debate will be fiery over the Employee Free Choice Act, which effectively would do away with employers’ rights to insist that employees cast pro or con votes in a secret ballot election for whether they want union representation.

Many employers say that election, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, is sacrosanct. Unions say the process, through which management in many cases tries to make a case to workers that a union is not in their best interests, is fraught with coercion and intimidation.

Under the proposed law, if a majority of employees at a workplace approve by signing authorization cards, a union will represent the group.

The Employee Free Choice Act - opponents call it the forced choice act, arguing the legislation would give labor a disproportionately heavy hand in organizing - would bring sweeping change to the 73-year-old National Labor Relations Act. It would spell hope for labor and anathema to many business interests.

An Obama win meant everything to labor, because Sen. John McCain is an ardent opponent of the legislation, and labor’s ground game was impressive: Unions spent about $450 million in the election, and the effort was particularly helpful in battleground states. In all, union members connected with 13 million voters in 24 states, in the process selling the Employee Free Choice Act along with the Democratic ticket.

Still, the fight will be fierce.

“Right now, the NLRB process is working against workers,” said Terence M. O’Sullivan, general president of the 508,000-member Laborers’ International Union of North America. “We need a system where workers do not have concerns with fear and intimidation by employers.”

“This battle will be a firestorm,” said Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The legislation is critical to labor’s fortunes because unions’ numbers have been sliding for years - with unions today representing only 7.7 percent of private-sector workers and 37.2 percent in the public sector. The causes for the decline are numerous - globalization, waning interest, entrepreneurial motivations, employer resistance and more - but now that the labor-friendly political stars are aligned - Obama and Biden were among co-sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act that died in the last congressional session - labor’s hopes are high.

The act passed the House in 2007 and had 51 votes in the Senate. But it needed 60 to overcome a Republican filibuster, and it failed.

In the aftermath of this month’s election, Democrats have a 57 to 40 advantage in the Senate with three races still undecided. (Two of the 57 are independents who caucus with Democrats.) Even while it is doubtful the Democrats will reach 60, and there is a question whether conservative Democrats will come around, labor regards the act, also known as the card check bill, as central to a broad recovery package that also includes health care reform and infrastructure investment.

“They are all long-term structural economic issues,” said AFL-CIO spokesman Steve Smith.

“We need it because, at a time when our nation’s working people are living on the edge, a union card is the single best ticket to the train to individual and collective recovery,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Cards used to organize
In numerous unions, more organizing already occurs through authorized cards rather than an NLRB election. That is true with hotel workers, in gaming, food service, laundry and garment manufacturing in particular, said Mike Casey, president of United Here Local 2, the hotel workers union, in San Francisco.

The legislation is in part labor’s response to rulings by NLRB members serving during President Bush’s tenure. They are perceived as anti-union, such as rulings in 2006 that broadened the definition of supervisor. As a result of those rulings, as many as 8 million workers, including nurses, building trades and newspaper and television workers, among others, will be classified as supervisors and barred from joining unions, by the AFL-CIO’s count.

“I agree with them, there’s been a series of one-sided rulings by this Bush board” that has also acted slowly in resolving elections that determine union representation and charges of unfair labor practices brought by employees, said William B. Gould IV, a Stanford University emeritus law professor who was chairman of the NLRB during President Bill Clinton’s time in office, from 1994 to 1998.

“These delays make it too easy for employers to intimidate and coerce workers, including dismissing them for organizing,” said Gould. “And this in turn diminishes employee interest in unions and thus undercuts the right to collective bargaining they are supposed to enjoy,” he added.

Still, Gould says “secret ballots to resolve union representation rights are the way to go,” adding that Obama should meet Republicans halfway on bipartisan common ground. In his view, Obama should stay with the secret ballot election with an important coda - that elections should continue quickly after a union’s petition seeking recognition is filed, within one or two weeks.

“Quick elections are the key to meaningful reform because delay is the principal way in which labor law stacks the deck against employees,” said Gould.

Peter Hurtgen, another former NLRB member and chairman appointed by Clinton (1997-2002), now an employers’ lawyer at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Irvine, disputes the charge of board bias and inordinate delay.

Hurtgen provided statistics showing unions are winning well over 50 percent of NLRB secret ballot elections involving new organizing, while the NLRB said in a preliminary 2008 fiscal year report that 2,085 union-representation elections were conducted a median 38 days from the filing of a petition.

Hurtgen also likened organizing by authorization cards as “death by a thousand cuts,” by which unions wear down an employer “until he has had enough.” Hurtgen said, “In this process, unions don’t organize employees, they organize employers. They can get the cards (signed) and the employer does not insist on an election and the union is in. Unions have been fairly successful at that.”

On the other hand, Bill Samuel, the director of government affairs at the AFL-CIO, says that the “employer community is not focused on preserving the secret ballot elections; rather it is more about preserving the use of tactics that intimidate employees considering union representation.”

Compromise not needed
Samuel also doubts that a compromise might have to be worked out in Congress - something like Gould’s secret ballot election held expeditiously.

“I’m not going to forecast how the debate will unfold. We have a way to go to cover a filibuster. We are not there yet,” Samuel said. “We are getting closer to a filibuster-proof Senate. It will include some Republicans,” including a co-sponsor, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., he added.

There’s no talk of compromise at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, either.

“Labor has faced decades of declining membership and they see this as a bonanza to quickly reverse that trend,” said Steven Law, the chief legal officer and general counsel at the chamber, in Washington.

“I think, from the unions’ perspective, they invested $450 million on buying influence and they expect something for it. From our perspective, there is nothing in the Employee Free Choice Act that can be improved by shaving it.”

Said the AFL-CIO’s Sweeney, “If we are going to rebuild our middle class and (have) a sustained recovery of living standards, workers must have the freedom to form unions as counterweight to corporate power, as a way to bargain for a better life.”

Posted by Admin on 11/17 at 12:04 PM
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Unions aim to collect on White House clout

For the nation’s labor union leaders, it’s time to cash in.
Having mobilized an army of workers to help elect Barack Obama, top union officials have not been shy about their plans to push a legislative wish list blocked under President Bush, and they say they will not wait. On the other hand, business leaders have not been shy about warning the president-elect against such early moves.
“American workers turned out for the election. American voters voted for Barack Obama. And American workers won this election,” Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, an activist coalition of unions including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.

Asked whether the labor group was willing to postpone a clash over the organizing bill to spare the new administration a bitter political fight in its first 100 days, Mrs. Burger replied, “No. Is that clear enough?”

Unions aim to collect on White House clout

David R. Sands and David Dickson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Monday, November 10, 2008
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/10/unions-aim-to-collect-on-white-house-clout/


For the nation’s labor union leaders, it’s time to cash in.
Having mobilized an army of workers to help elect Barack Obama, top union officials have not been shy about their plans to push a legislative wish list blocked under President Bush, and they say they will not wait. On the other hand, business leaders have not been shy about warning the president-elect against such early moves.
“American workers turned out for the election. American voters voted for Barack Obama. And American workers won this election,” Anna Burger, chairman of Change to Win, an activist coalition of unions including the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.
She said union volunteers were critical to Democratic victories in such battleground states as Nevada, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia.
“We turned Virginia blue, and we’re going to keep it blue,” Mrs. Burger said.
Karen Ackerman, political director for the AFL-CIO, said her unions provided 250,000 campaign volunteers and 4,000 paid political staffers and “were the firewall that prevented John McCain from victories in the Rust Belt.”
AFL-CIO head John Sweeney said the labor movement’s “No. 1 priority” for the Obama administration is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), designed to make it easier for unions to recruit and organize in nonunion workplaces.

The bill, anathema to leading business groups, has majority support in the Democrat-dominated House and Senate, but has not been able to clear the 60-vote mark in the Senate to end a filibuster.
With Mr. Obama’s election and sizable Democratic gains in both chambers, “we think our prospects have increased dramatically to get it passed,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka.

Business organizations have offered an early olive branch to the president-elect, but caution that signing the unions’ pet bill would make good relations with the administration difficult, when the overall U.S. and global economy face recession and severe credit problems.
The union organizing bill “clearly should wait until after we get these economies stabilized and creating jobs and putting more people to work,” Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Donohue said.
John Engler, head of the National Association of Manufacturers, said, “This is not the time and certainly not the issue to build a relationship” between the new president and the business community.
Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, said union leaders were in danger of overreaching.
“Just because they drove the engine doesn’t mean they weren’t in the caboose,” she said.
In his first pro-election press conference Friday, Mr. Obama said his first priority as president would be to create jobs and revive the economy. He was not asked about the Employee Free Choice Act, nor did he bring it up.
Union officials said the bill is needed to counter employer intimidation during organizing drives. Under the measure, workers could vote to form a union simply by signing a card, instead of by secret ballot, as is currently the case. It also calls for an arbitrator to impose a contract after 120 days if the union and management fail to agree.
Unions say the secret-ballot method gives companies the time to pressure workers and counter the organizing drive. The “card-check” method, they say, will make it substantially easier to force the company to negotiate.
Business groups counter that the secret ballot protects workers from intimidation from union supporters and fellow workers. Both sides agree that the change would greatly boost union membership, which stood at just 12.1 percent of the total U.S. labor force in 2007.
The chamber’s Mr. Donohue said it was clear the business community will be playing defense on a broad range of issues given Tuesday’s vote.
“I’ve been around a long time and I can count,” he said. “Given the makeup of the new government, it will be more difficult to advance certain business priorities and much harder to stop some anti-business measures.”
Both sides were trying to gauge the impact of the Senate vote, where Democrats have 57 seats with three races still undecided.
Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, noted that some of the incoming Democrats, including Sen.-elect Mark Warner of Virginia, are not automatic votes in favor of the labor agenda.
Mr. Warner is “a perfect example of someone who hasn’t put a stake in the sand on this issue,” he said.
But Change to Win officials said several moderate Senate Republicans can be “brought around” on filibuster showdowns, and the movement plans to keep up the pressure in every state.

Asked whether the labor group was willing to postpone a clash over the organizing bill to spare the new administration a bitter political fight in its first 100 days, Mrs. Burger replied, “No. Is that clear enough?”

Posted by Admin on 11/10 at 09:12 AM
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