Two Strikes Against Worker Rights - Washington Insider
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Two Strikes Against Worker Rights

By Christian Klein

Article Date: 04-01-2009
Copyright(C) 2009 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

Even prisoners of war have something that unionizing workers won't.

In this space two months ago we discussed the politics surrounding the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA or “card check”). It’s a piece of legislation that the unions have been pushing for years on Capitol Hill that would take away the right to secret ballots in union organizing elections. As a member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) steering committee, AED is helping to lead opposition to the EFCA (more at and on March 11 we organized a “Card Check Action Day” to bring the collective voice of the equipment industry to bear on the debate.

To AED and many other business leaders, the EFCA is inherently undemocratic. The secret ballot is an established cornerstone of political freedom. Without it, voters are subject to intimidation and retribution. (In fact, the secret ballot is so universally respected as a basic human right that the Geneva Convention guarantees prisoners of war the right to use it to select their leaders if officers aren’t present!) While union bosses may not see the issue our way, their members do. A recent CDW poll found that 74 percent of union households oppose EFCA, 88 percent feel the union organizing process should remain private, and 85 percent favor federally supervised elections as a means to “protect the individual rights of workers.”

But while the secret ballot issue has received a lot of attention, there’s another part of the EFCA that would strike another major blow for worker (and employer) rights.

The card check bill would, for the first time, impose binding arbitration in the collective bargaining process. Under EFCA, after a union is certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), contract negotiations between union and employer would have to begin within 10 days. After 90 days, either party could notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and request mediation. After 30 more days, an FMCS-appointed arbitration panel would determine the final contract. The contract terms rendered by the arbitrators would be binding for two years.

There are lots of problems with the mandatory arbitration provision. First, newly unionized workers would lose the right to vote on the contract terms just months after forming a union (whether they wanted a union or not!). Second, the arbitration requirement would effectively put decisions about terms and conditions of employment into the hands of federal arbitrators with little knowledge of day-to-day business reality.

As the CDW points out, “labor contracts are more than just wages and benefits – they completely control the day-to-day operations of a business. In a sense, EFCA will allow the federal government to install inflexible rules for two years. Businesses would not be able to respond to competition or other changes in company environment. The result could be disastrous for employers, employees and their families. Yet, nothing in EFCA protects employees or the employer if the arbitrator’s decision forces the company out of business.”

AED and the CDW aren’t the only ones who are dubious about the EFCA’s binding arbitration language. The CDW poll mentioned above found that 72 percent of union households think the provision would be “unwise” and “risky.”

Having just spent more than $65 million dollars in the last election cycle (90+ percent of which went to Democrats), the unions are twisting arms and calling in favors on Capitol Hill to get the card check bill done this spring. Fortunately, more and more Democratic lawmakers are hearing from constituents back home and are waking up to problems with the bill.

If you haven’t done so already, join our campaign. Take a minute to visit and send a message to your representatives to let them know you think card check is “unwise” and “risky” too.

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