Measure may give unions an edge
If passed, it would fundamentally change how unions can organize at a company.
By CHRISTINA REXRODE
Published March 1, 2007
Advocates have called the Employee Free Choice Act the issue they're willing to fight for. Opponents say it's just a misnomer. The act, or House Bill 800, is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives today.
What would be the bill's effects?
It would allow unions to form by majority sign-up instead of election. Under current practice, when a union gets 30 percent of a company's employees to say they are interested in having a union, then the National Labor Relations Board supervises a companywide, secret-ballot election on the issue. But under the Employee Free Choice Act, if at least 51 percent of workers signed cards authorizing the union, then the company would have to certify the union without an election.
In many cases, it would end secret-ballot elections. In those cases of unions forming by majority sign-up, the secret ballot would be replaced by so-called card checks, with union bosses gathering the authorization cards.
Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act say this violates workers' privacy. "A union organizer could stand there as you're filling out your ballot and pressure you, by their mere presence, to vote for the union even if you don't really want it," said Wendy Smith, an employment attorney with Fisher & Phillips' Tampa office.
Bill Samuel, director of legislation for the AFL-CIO, counters that it's usually the employers, not the unions, that intimidate workers. "There's nothing free or fair about an NLRB-supervised election," Samuel said.
It would spur contract negotiations between unions and companies. Currently, a union and a company have no legal obligation to sign a contract after a union is certified. Samuel says that about one-third of newly certified unions never agree on a contract.
The Employee Free Choice Act would allow either party to refer negotiations to a federal mediator if a contract can't be reached within 90 days. In other words, Samuel said, employers could not drag out contract negotiations and hope workers would lose interest.
It would increase potential penalties against employers. Under the act, companies that illegally intimidate employees to try to prevent them from forming a union would be subject to paying triple back pay and to civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation. Currently, companies are subject only to back-pay damages.
Will the bill pass the House today?
Almost definitely, now that the Democrats are in control. The bill has 234 sponsors, all but seven of them Democrats. The bill has not been introduced this session in the Senate.
Christina Rexrode can be reached at 727 893-8318 or firstname.lastname@example.org">href="mailto:email@example.com" mce_href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com
Full bill is online
House Bill 800 was introduced by Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from California.
Read the complete bill at thomas.loc.gov by entering "Employee Free Choice Act" as a keyword search.