News Analysis

The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win unions have launched a full-court press to restore workers’ rights to join a union and bargain a contract.

Step No. 1 was introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act (HR 800) into the House, Feb. 5. The bill brought with it a hefty 230 co-sponsors, over half the 435 members — 228 Democrats and two Republicans. Rolling up its sleeves, the AFL-CIO issued a battle cry to pass what’s considered the most important labor reform bill in nearly 50 years.

House members will likely pass the measure. Then it heads to the Senate, then Bush’s desk.

The bill brings “fresh hope” to millions of America’s workers who want and need to join a union to improve their families’ lives, said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

A December 2006 poll by Hart Research reported that given a fair chance, 60 million workers in the U.S. would form or join a union.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers who are union members earn 30 percent more than workers who do not have a union. Union workers are more likely to have health insurance and pension plans and work in safer environments.

Last year, according to the National Labor Relations Board, 70,000 workers tried to form unions and failed.

It is not news to working families, but every economic study concludes that wages are stagnant, 47 million have no health insurance and those who have health coverage are paying increased co-pays. This at a time when corporate profits are in outer space, CEO pay averages $13.5 million per year and the Bush administration is cutting taxes on corporations and the rich.

A report by two University of Chicago professors, “Undermining the Right to Organize,” found that 30 percent of companies fire pro-union workers; 49 percent threaten to close (only 2 percent actually do); 51 percent coerce workers into opposing union drives through bribery or favoritism; 82 percent hire professional union-busting law outfits; and 91 percent force workers to attend intimidating one-on-one meetings with their supervisor.

The report concludes, “Union membership in the United States is not declining because workers no longer want, need or attempt to form unions. Instead, the falling membership rate is related to employers’ systematic use of legal and illegal tactics to stymie union organizing.”

Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if 50-percent-plus-one people in a workplace sign a union card, the employer would be required to recognize and bargain with the union.

Currently, workers do not have “free choice” when going through the NLRB petition and election process, Sweeney said. Instead, he said, the petition “triggers a bitter, divisive and often lengthy anti-union campaign designed to chill or destroy union support.”

He continued, “The NLRB process may be called an ‘election,’ but it is nothing like any democratic election held in any other part of our society.”

But if the new labor law is passed, card-check would be guaranteed as another way to gain union recognition. Sweeney cited the positive example of Cingular Wireless, where the company recognized the union after a majority of workers signed union cards.

EFCA addresses the long-standing frustration when workers manage to withstand the NLRB election process, only to be denied a first contract. In such situations, Unite Here President Bruce Raynor asked, “What did they win?”

EFCA provides mediation and arbitration to resolve first contract disputes and increases fines for violations of workers’ rights.

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