The Power of a Name - Washington Insider
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The Power of a Name

By Christian Klein

Article Date: 02-01-2009
Copyright(C) 2009 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Labor organizations prefer "Free Choice" to the term "Card Check," but here's a reality check on how much freedom this bill offers.

What’s in a name? A great deal, apparently. Consider, for example, the difference between, The Civil War and The War for Southern Independence, or “estate tax” versus “death tax.”

A name and the corresponding public perception, go a long way in determining the fate of an idea, event, person, or, in one current case, a piece of legislation.

Labor organizations say that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is critical to ensuring that workers are able to organize and protect their rights in the workplace. Business groups call the same bill “card check” and say that it’s an assault on economic and political liberties and will lead to intimidation by union thugs. The two names are a testament to the divisiveness of the bill, which will be one of the most hotly contested votes of the 111th Congress.

First, a brief history lesson: Union membership steadily declined during the 1980s and ’90s before leveling off over the last decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2007 that union workers comprised 12.1 percent of the wage and salary workforce. In contrast, data from 1983 showed union membership at 20.1 percent. The precipitous decline hit unions where it counted the most – the pocketbook. The result was waning influence that left unions on the outside looking in on Capitol Hill. However, the re-emergence of a Democratic majority has reinvigorated organized labor. After pouring more than $53 million into the 2008 election (90 percent went to Democrats), unions feel that now is the time to reach for their “brass ring” and make the EFCA law.

The EFCA has a simple goal – increasing the size and strength of unions. Under current law, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will certify a union if the majority of employees have signed authorization cards (hence the name “card check”). However, current law allows an employer, or other employees, to challenge “card check” results and request a secret ballot election overseen by the NLRB. The EFCA eliminates the ability of the employer to request a secret ballot election and requires the NLRB to certify the union once a majority of signature authorizations are obtained. While the EFCA would still allow for secret ballot elections, the choice would rest with the union organizers and not with employers or fellow employees. In addition, the EFCA heightens penalties (in some cases tripling fines) for businesses found to have discharged or discriminated against employees during organizing campaigns or negotiations.

Unions claim that employers use secret ballot elections as a method of buying time to coerce employees into voting “no” to unionization. Employers counter that if unions can pinpoint individuals not supportive of organization, intimidation will follow. Ironically, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who introduced the EFCA in the 110th Congress, signed onto a 2001 letter to a Mexican labor board that stated, “We feel that the secret ballot is absolutely necessary in order to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose.”

Most Americans regard the secret ballots they cast in local, state, and federal elections as sacrosanct. As such, the business community has gained considerable traction challenging the EFCA as contrary to basic American values. The EFCA is becoming a “hot potato” on Capitol Hill, and some Democrats are now wary of the impact the bill will have on the party’s political future. Democrats have made important gains in recent years in states and congressional districts with low unionization rates. At the same time, Republicans from union-heavy states and districts are in a bind as they decide between party allegiance and voting blocs back home.

AED is committed to the employee’s right to a secret ballot. As a member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW), AED adds its voice to businesses, large and small, that oppose the EFCA. Last year, the CDW held a virtual “fly-in” during which thousands of businesses contacted members of Congress in oppositionto the EFCA. In the coming debate, AED and the CDW will again be at the forefront.

As the debate continues, be sure to check updates from AED’s Washington Office. After all, AED is one name you can trust!

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