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Dave MacIver, Published May 10 2009

Workers’rights threatened by Employee Free Choice Act

Congress is considering legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act. While few people have heard of this bill, it is the most sweeping rewrite of federal labor law in 70 years.

EFCA would essentially abolish the protection of a private or secret ballot during union organizing campaigns, eliminate workers’ ability to vote on a union contract, and make it almost impossible for employers to talk to employees about unionization.

The legislation has three principal sections. The first deals with union organization. Traditionally, union organizers ask workers to sign cards indicating an interest in an election. Once more than

30 percent have signed, the union can ask the federal government to hold a secret ballot election. In the month prior to the election, both the union and the employer make their cases to workers, and then the government supervises the election. If the union wins more than 50 percent of the vote, it is certified, and collective bargaining begins.

Under EFCA, union organizers could skip the election and would need only to collect signature cards. Once more than 50 percent of the employees have signed cards, the union would automatically be certified and a secret ballot election would be prohibited. The signature cards would be signed publicly – making a worker’s “vote” public. Union organizers would know who had, or hadn’t, signed a card and could relentlessly pursue those who refused to sign until they got their majority.

The second provision of the bill deals with the collective bargaining process once a union is certified. Under current law, the parties meet, negotiate the terms and conditions of employment and reach a contract. Workers then vote to ratify the contract.

EFCA would undermine this collective bargaining process through binding arbitration. Under binding arbitration, the parties must reach a deal within 120 days. If they can’t, a government arbitrator would step in and impose a contract on both sides. Because the contract is binding, workers would be denied a ratification vote. Additionally, employers could be stuck with a contract they can’t afford.

The final provision of the bill could impose substantial penalties on employers who attempt to tell their workers about the impact of unionizing. Workers would be denied equal information, and employers would be denied their right to free speech.

EFCA is flawed, but Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., support this bill. Contact them and let them know that EFCA isn’t right for North Dakota or for this country.

MacIver is president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.