Monday, February 9, 2009

Get Your Name On This List

That scrolling one, over on the right.

On February 4th, thousands of union members rallied on Capitol Hill in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. They delivered boxes to Congress carrying some of the 1.5 million signatures in support of the bill. On the internet, American Rights at Work created the banner you see on the right side of this page, which is scrolling through each of the 1.5 million names, one by one. It will take 11 days to scroll through all the names.

Having met the original goal of 1 million signatures before the rally, now the goal is to gather 2 million signatures before Congress takes its February break. 

So add your name. Then grab some popcorn and wait for your name to scroll by!

The main feature of the Employee Free Choice Act is that it would make it easier and quicker for workers to form a union, by allowing workers to choose whether to decide on a union through majority sign-up or an election. Currently that choice belongs solely to the employer. In most cases, the employer opts for a secret ballot election, where almost everything is stacked in the employer's favor. In the run-up to the election, the employer pulls out the traditional anti-union techniques: illegally firing pro-union employees, illegally threatening to close worksites if the union is formed, and bribing workers to oppose the union. Perhaps most importantly, in the pre-election period the employer controls the debate. Before an election, 92 percent of employers force workers to attend mandatory meetings to listen to anti-union propaganda, while pro-union meetings are not allowed.

You've probably seen ads on TV both for and against the Employee Free Choice Act. You can understand why the pro-labor ads use phrases like "a level playing field," since the act would give workers a fighting chance to form a union. 

On the other hand, the anti-labor ads have simply repeated the lie that Employee Free Choice would "take away the secret ballot." What they really mean is, the Employee Free Choice Act would "take away the employer's right to require workers to sit through a long anti-union campaign of bribery and intimidation before voting on a secret ballot, even if all of the workers have already indicated they want a union." But yeah, "take away the secret ballot" has a better ring to it.      

This is going to be a big fight--a throw-back to some of the great labor struggles in our history. It's people-power versus all the hired guns and publicity money can buy. Big business has already shown that they are willing to pull out all the stops against this legislation, but labor appears to be standing firm. More on that later. It may simply come down to a numbers game in the Senate: Can Democrats get 60 votes? But it's a numbers game in a larger sense too: Can a large number of people overcome an enormous amount of money? 


jen said...

What do you think of the mandatory interest arbitration provisions of the EFCA? I started to comment about it and my comment got too long; thought I'd see what you thought instead.

Nate Meyer said...

Unfortunately, after my experience at UPS I can never be pro-Union. This bill scares the hell out of me, because even though Florida is a right-to-work" state, I was still pressured to join the Teamsters by their union representative and other union employees. Somehow I managed to duck under the radar after a month or two, but I had other coworkers that were hated by the union employees and the management (the union employees hated them because they were non-union and the management hated all employees because of the union). I would say that this is an isolated incident, but I've heard similar stories from other people too.

Nate Meyer said...

Another interesting note, one day our union rep gave announced that benefits were being adjusted due to fiscal shortfalls in the union. Not more than a month later, a story broke in the news about Teamster management embezzling money. Maybe unions once served a purpose (and maybe some still do), but others are just as corrupt and dirty as corporate America.

Camp Papa said...

I'm always a little perplexed when non-management workers are anti-union. Granted that there are plenty of stories about abuse of power in unions, but name an institution in which there are no examples of abuse of power. What is required of union members is the same thing that is required of citizens in a democracy - vigilance and activism. But, to take the position that, in general, unions are a bad thing is to say there should be no counter-balance of power in the workplace. What would make anyone think that there is not a potential for abuse when the power in any human situation is so one-sided as in a non-union workplace. I've been on both sides of this power balance and have seen examples of abuse from each perspective, but the necessity for the balance seems so apparent to me.

To paraphrase, the founder of the NEA's Education Defense Fund,"Active citizenship in a democracy is not possible for a scared hired-man." If you can be frightened on the job, you can be frightened in the voting booth, and everywhere else in your life.

Nate Meyer said...

I don't know if I'm anti-union, I'm just anti-strong arm... almost anything. When I worked at UPS, the Teamster rep tried to coerce, guilt, and force me into the union (until he gave up?). And the crap that some of the union employees would pull was pitiful. There was one that intentionally misloaded a truck because of something the driver said the previous day. Because he misloaded the truck, the driver had to spend the first couple of hours of his day resorting the packages, meaning that he was out until 11 that night instead of back home with his family at 8. The employee that misloaded the truck was promptly fired. When he didn't show up for work the next day his supervisor called him to ask where he was and threatened to fire him if he didn't show up for work (if you're fired from UPS for anything other than stealing or punching your supervisor then you're expected to show up for work the next day).

I know I was in a particularly bad example of a union, so I'm not necessarily anti-union... it's just that unions scare me as much as corporations (it seems to me that unions like the Teamsters are corporations themselves). And the fact that I'd be forced to be a member of a corrupt union in 28 states... If the Employee Free Choice Act passes, then I'd also like to see a rider that every state has to be a right-to-work state (but of course that's probably a state issue and not a federal issue...).

Like I said though, UPS may be a bad example. I've heard many good stories about local education unions and farm worker unions. Still, because of my experience I'm expecting corporate unions to overpower local unions any day...

And honestly, the problem isn't unions or corporations, the problem is greed:

"Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Camp Papa said...

I think the Solzhenitsyn quote supports my point. Until the Holy Spirit sets right the heart of every man, we had better try to create institutions designed to protect us from the harm we tend to do to each other. Whereas the abuse that is possible with unions is a bad thing, the evil that results from powerless workers confronted by corporations with all the financial, legal, and political power is so much worse.

Better Than Machines said...

Jen, I'm not as familiar with the mandatory arbitration provision as I'd like to be, because so much of the discussion has centered on the "card check" provision.

It seems like a needed, though imperfect, solution to a big problem: employers refusing to bargain in good faith and delaying a new union's first contract. I read about one study that showed that in one-third of cases, employers have not agreed to a labor contract after a year. Then employers can say to the workers, "See, your new union's not doing you much good. You don't have a contract." And that can be the beginning of a decertification campaign.

jen said...

Nate, I can understand why you would be wary of legislation that is "pro-union" in the sense of expanding unions' rights vis a vis the workers, but that's really unrelated to what's going on with EFCA. EFCA really isn't "pro-union" legislation, it's "pro-worker" legislation. It doesn't give the unions any more power or influence over employees than they already have. Rather, it's intended to give workers more power vis a vis their employers. I agree that there are some policies that are "pro-union" that are arguably not "pro-worker," such as the legality of union security clauses. But EFCA is not one of these.

Personally, I'm in favor of labor law reform in theory but am still agnostic about EFCA until we know more specifics of how this is all supposed to play out. What I'm definitely NOT agnostic about, however, are the monetary penalties that it would impose for violations of labor law. This is the most important and urgent element of labor law reform. Right now, employers can violate the NLRA with near impunity. Until there are real financial penalties for breaking the law, it doesn't matter what kind of other changes we make.