WASHINGTON (PAI) — Bob Boyle was fired April 28 from Oesterling’s Sandblasting Co., just outside Butler, Pa. “I wanted a little better and safer place to work,” said the 17-year veteran of the plant. Boyle and two other men, all fired for trying to organize for the Steelworkers union, described the hostility, lies and obstacles they encountered in their organizing drives during a May 8 lobbying effort by the union here. The effort, marshaled by Americans for Democratic Action, was in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

“The most fundamental problem with U.S. labor law is that it’s good on paper, but the employer doesn’t suffer any fine or any penalty” for law-breaking, explained Human Rights Watch labor specialist Carol Pier. Even when workers win a favorable National Labor Relations Board ruling the appeal process takes five years or more.

Sarah Fox, a former Democratic member of the NLRB, said that the 1935 Wagner Act — the National Labor Relations Act — “was the first anti-discrimination law” of the 20th century. However, the act’s weak penalties and “lack of coverage” by the corporate media allow employers to get away with law-breaking. Fox focused on the weakest section of the law: the nature of the election campaigns unions must undertake to win representation rights. Employers have all the advantages — which often “makes the election invalid,” she said.

To insure employers don’t break labor law, the Employer Free Choice Act would make court orders against their violations easier to get. It would institute triple damages, like other civil rights laws. EFCA would write card-check recognition into labor law. It would mandate that if labor and management cannot agree on a first contract within 90 days of the start of bargaining, there would be mandatory arbitration.

EFCA would ban captive-audience meetings where employers and “consultants” can harangue against unions — and workers must attend or be disciplined.

At the Washington briefing, Boyle described management threats — plus a last-minute pay raise — that turned the tide from a 14-6 majority for USW into a 14-6 defeat, before he was fired. Those threats included a statement, legal under current labor law, from the firm’s accountant that it would “save $800,000 if the union came in” by yanking the workers’ 401(k) accounts, vacation days, holidays and health care. Management also threatened to sell to another firm.

After the vote, management told the workers it was “Bob’s fault” that they got NLRB subpoenas regarding an investigation into the company’s breaking of labor law. Managers then encouraged co-workers to refuse to work with him and several agreed. Then the company president turned to Bob and ordered: “Get out!”

Brian Breining, fired Jan. 24, and co-worker Brian Smith, fired April 6, from Cultured Stone Co., of Dover, Ohio, told similar stories. There, they said, management also tried to enlist local police to evict USW organizers and members from a tent they set up in another company’s parking lot across the street from Cultured Stone’s entrance. Such labor law-breaking puts fear into other workers, Smith said. “‘I’ll sign an authorization card, but I won’t speak up for the union, one told me,” Smith said. “And guys would come up to me and say ‘I’d like to speak up the way you are, but I’ve got a wife and kids.’”

EFCA has more than 210 House backers, including several Republicans.

On the other side, House Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman Charles Norwood (R-Ga.) is pushing legislation to outlaw card-check recognition.

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