While much of the national media's attention was focused on the presidential election, it ignored one the highest priorities of organized Labor to recapture membership and influence — the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA would allow union organization on the basis of signed authorization cards rather than relying on a private ballot supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Why now? Over the last twenty years there has been a steady decline in non-government union representation (close to 12% compared to 20% of the workforce). As a result unions are turning to the legislative process to accomplish what they have not been able to achieve in the workplace. Record amounts of money were spent on key races across the country — presidential and congressional. For instance, the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) reportedly spent $150,000,000 this election cycle to influence races.
What's at stake? Employees could be approached anywhere by union organizers and asked to sign cards authorizing union representation — including bars, bowling alleys, stores, etc. Furthermore the act would allow the union to determine the scope of the bargaining unit — warehousemen, drivers, clerical staff and/or laborers or just certain segments of the workforce. And, the process would not apply to de-certification, only to organizing efforts. It would apply in right-to work states as well as with small businesses.
Once more than 50% of the targeted labor force signs authorization cards you have a union. Collective bargaining would have to begin within 10 days. Should you not be able to negotiate a contract within 90 days a federal mediator would be assigned followed by binding arbitration that would force a contract on the employer — possibly including entry into an existing under-funded pension fund. Despite many restrictions on what employers can say or do during a current organization attempt, EFCA would add additional penalties (including $20,000 per violation) and additional back pay restitution.
Previously passed by the House of Representatives, EFCA had majority support in the Senate but did not have enough votes to avoid filibuster (60 votes are required to avoid a filibuster). Furthermore President Bush threatened a veto. With 23 Senate GOP seats and 12 Democratic seats on the line in the recent election, unions were pushing this issue in key states including Alaska, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon. Many Congressional races were also targeted by outside union money.
Polling indicates 89% of Americans believe a federally supervised secret-ballot election on union representation is a better way to protect the individual rights of workers than the card check proposal.
The International Warehouse & Logistics Association (IWLA) and the American Trucking Association (ATA) are part of the Coalition for a Democratic Work Place, which supports the secret-ballot election.
The general election may be history, but many businesses could be facing their own elections, and, elections do have consequences.
Sibila is president and CEO of Peoples Services Inc. He is a board member for the government affairs committee of the International Warehouse Logistics Association.