Union membership would double with EFCA

Union membership in the U.S. would almost double from the current 12.4 percent of all workers to 22 percent if the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) were to become law, a new report says.

Speaking at an April 30 press conference organized by the Institute for America’s Future, Ross Eisenberg of the Economic Policy Institute and Eric Latke, co-author of a report on the measure’s impact, said that increase is a minimum figure.

The report also said if EFCA becomes law an additional 3.54 million people nationwide would receive health care benefits and an additional 2.77 million would receive pension benefits.

EFCA requires fines for employers who break the law during organizing drives, makes majority sign-up rather than an election the standard way for workers to decide on union representation, and requires mediation and arbitration to insure that workers get a first contract quickly.

NLRB opens new attack on unions

By a 2-1 vote along party lines, the Bush majority on the National Labor Relations Board has opened the way for decertification of unions even before the first contract negotiated by a union and approved by the workers takes effect. The NLRB action was announced May 2.

Covenant Aviation Security, which employs San Francisco Airport screeners, recognized a union in October 2005 by card-check after the union presented cards from 555 out of 1,010 employees. (The 1,010 total included baggage handlers and specialists who were less supportive of the union than the screeners.)

Bargaining began just before Thanksgiving and the company and the union reached a year-end tentative contract, which was approved by the workers 378-229. The contract took effect June 13, 2006, and is set to expire at the end of 2008.

However, an anti-labor employee collected signatures on a petition to decertify the union even before the contract was approved by the workers, and filed that petition before the contract took effect.

The San Francisco office of the NLRB ruled that the anti-union employee’s petition was illegal because the workers had only just approved the union, the workers had only just approved the first contract and there was no precedent for decertifying a union even before it has a chance to negotiate a first contract.

The Bush-dominated NLRB in Washington overturned that ruling last week, and the workers will be forced now to go through another vote to possibly decertify a union that has already won them a contract they have approved.

The new precedent set by the NLRB — decertifying a union even before the ink is dry on the first contract — is seen by labor as a major threat. Observers point out that it is no accident that the Bush administration makes this move at a time when a Bush veto is the only thing that stands in the way of the Employee Free Choice Act becoming law.

Workers who missed lunch get back pay

California workers who are forced to work their lunch breaks scored a major victory last week when the state Supreme Court ruled they are entitled to back wages for an hour a day going back as long as three years.

The unanimous ruling in the case of a San Francisco clothing store employee applies to thousands of workers in pending class action suits against their employers. It may also help 116,000 past and present Wal-Mart employees in California who won a $172 million damages suit against Wal-Mart in a lower court.

Unions try to block Detroit giveaway

Led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 207, six union locals representing 2,000 workers sued Detroit last week, along with its Water and Sewer Department chief Victor Mercado. The suit tries to force the city to release documents that the union says will prove the city is trying to privatize the agency.

The union says that the mayor, the director of the department and other city officials have documents that show what is being planned and that the public has the right to see them.

This Week in Labor is compiled by John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org).