WHEATFIELD, Ind. — United Steelworkers and retirees from around Indiana and Illinois came to this rural area here Nov.3 to show support for their union at Georgia Pacific’s wallboard plant there. It’s a common story in testimony to the need for labor law reform and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Going through the regular National Labor Relations Board election process, the workers here voted to be represented by the USW in 2006. They won the vote despite the usual unfair company advantages including voting on company property, being subjected to company intimidation and forced, in plant, captive audience meetings. Even then the company stalled any real negotiations on a first contract for over two years.
Then as agreement was finally being negotiated a small, company inspired “vote no” committee filed to decertify the union. They hoped to play on the natural frustration of members who fought hard to win the election and get the union, only to have the company stonewall negotiations blocking any gains for the workers.
The plant gate rally for a “yes” vote for the union was held just two days before a new election vote will be held to keep the USW union in the plant. Judging by the response of the workers at shift change the stalling and intimidation tactics of the company will not work. Many workers parked their cars on leaving the plant and joined the rally for a “yes” vote. “USW Vote Yes” buttons were passed out to wear on election day and confidence was good.
Most attention to EFCA in the media has focused on the majority sign-up provisions, but the Wheatfield experience underlines the importance of provisions in the bill that mandate a time limit and arbitration if necessary to reach a first agreement in a timely way.