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As expected, Democrats in Congress introduced on March 10, 2009, a pivotal labor law bill that could drastically change how labor unions organize and how employers deal with union representation.
Most political observers agree that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—also known as the card check bill—will be the most hotly contested piece of legislation on Capitol Hill in 2009. EFCA is a top legislative priority for organized labor; the measure would amend the National Labor Relations Act to eliminate secret-ballot workplace elections. Union representation would instead be decided through a card check process. According to the legislation, unions would be certified automatically if a majority of an employer’s workers sign union cards.
Even before the bill was introduced in both Houses of Congress, it was a hot topic of debate. Supporters of EFCA, such as labor unions and worker advocacy groups, claimed that the proposal would strengthen the rights of workers and improve a union representation process that they say has long been tilted toward employers.
“The current crisis has shown us the dangers of an economy that leaves working families behind,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a key Senate sponsor of EFCA. “The people who work in our factories, build our roads and care for our children are the backbone of this great nation. The Employee Free Choice Act will give these hardworking men and women a greater voice in the decisions that affect their families and their futures.”
President Barack Obama has urged Congress to pass EFCA and has stated that he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Opponents claim that the legislation would take away fundamental democratic rights for workers by replacing secret-ballot elections to decide union representation with a public card check process.
“The right to a secret ballot is a cornerstone of our American democracy, and it is equally vital to protect privacy in the workplace,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a written statement. “No one should have the right to pressure workers into making their personal views on unionization known to their co-workers, their employers and union officials.”
As a counter to EFCA, Republican leaders in Congress introduced on Feb. 25, 2009, the Secret Ballot Protection Act (H.R. 1176). The GOP lawmakers called H.R. 1176 “a pre-emptive strike” against the card check proposal.
Before EFCA was introduced, several business and employer groups launched grassroots efforts to express opposition to the bill. Members of the Society for Human Resource Management have sent more than 20,000 letters asking members of Congress to oppose the bill. Other business groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have urged their members to contact members of Congress and voice their disapproval of the legislation.
EFCA would require arbitration for first contract negotiations. According to the proposal, whenever a union is certified by a card check process, the law would require arbitration between the union and employer if a voluntary agreement for a union contract cannot be reached.
According to sources familiar with the issue, EFCA should gain approval in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives soon. The House passed a version of the measure in March 2007. The legislation stalled in the Senate when Democrats failed to summon the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster by GOP senators.
Democrats have worked hard to gather support for the bill so that the latest version of EFCA does not suffer the same fate in the Senate. Political observers have been speculating whether Senate Democrats had enough votes to block a GOP-led filibuster. Both sides are claiming that they have enough support to move or block the proposal.
A close vote in the Senate could make Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the center of attention in this debate. In 2007, Specter, whose home state is heavily unionized, jumped ranks and voted with the Democrats on EFCA. However, Specter has stated that he would not be the deciding vote in the Senate on a motion to end any threatened filibusters and would vote with his fellow Republicans.
Reports in publications such as The Hill, The Huffington Post, and The Wall Street Journal have stated that support for EFCA among conservative Democrats in the Senate could be waning. However, political observers agree that support for organized labor from the Obama administration and the new 111th Congress has increased the likelihood that EFCA could pass and be signed into law during 2009.
Bill Leonard is senior writer for SHRM Online.
Vote on EFCA Might Be Closer than Expected
Employee Free Choice Act on the Agenda for 2009
Expert: Continue to Monitor the Employee Free Choice Act
Choosing a Union: Private Ballot vs. Public Card Check
House Passes Union Card Check Bill, but Veto Looms
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