How Free Choice Act Aids Workers

Isaiah J. Poole

More than 3.5 million people will receive health insurance and 2.7 million people will receive pension benefits if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act, according to a report released Monday by the Campaign for America’s Future.

The study, which is also broken down by state, underscores the importance of the fight in the Senate for passage of the bill, which would level the playing field between employers and employees seeking to unionize. The bill (H.R. 800) passed the House in March, and is expected to be on the Senate floor soon.

The estimates of the positive impact on workers are based on the work of a Canadian labor economics professor, Susan Johnson, who has studied differences in labor representation between Canadian provinces that allow a card-check system for union representation and those that do not. The card-check system, which would be given greater credence under EFCA, gives workers an option for signaling their preference for union representation in a way that sidesteps intimidation techniques used by anti-union employers.

In Canadian provinces that only allow a secret ballot election that could be manipulated by employer pressure tactics, union certification rates run about 9 percent below that of provinces where workers have the choice of a majority-sign-up system for signaling their desire for a union, Johnson has found. She also concludes that about 20 percent of the difference between Canadian union representation rate, about 30 percent, and the U.S., which stands currently at 12 percent, can be attributed to the use of card-check certification in some provinces.

The report estimates that if EFCA became law, union membership would increase by about 10 percent—thus increasing the pool of workers who are more likely to get access to employee-paid health insurance and retirement benefits that are substantially more prevalent among unionized workers than they are among nonunionized workers.

“As union membership has declined in recent years, wages have stagnated, the numbers of uninsured have risen, and private companies have been allowed to default on their pensions, threatening the retirement security of millions of Americans,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said in a statement Monday. “By passing the Employee Free Choice Act and giving workers a seat at the table, we can start to reverse these negative trends. Union participation in the workplace means everybody wins.  When employees have a voice—when they can ask for better wages and benefits and make suggestions about how to do things better—employers benefit too.”

As the report was being released, foes of EFCA continue to work overtime on a disinformation campaign to kill the bill, which President Bush has already threatened to veto. Their latest weapon is a report by The Heritage Foundation that alleges that if EFCA is passed, a binding arbitration provision in the bill—which would kick in only if employers and employees fail to come to terms on a union contract on their own—“would empower government officials to set workers’ wages and working conditions” and “could force workers into multiemployer union pension plans, many of which are severely underfunded and cannot pay promised benefits.”

The over-the-top allegation, with its insinuation that union leaders would use the opportunity to pad union finances at the expense of retirees, mirrors outright lies told by such business-funded groups as UnionFacts.com, which uses television and newspaper ads to repeat the falsehood that ECRA would “eliminate voting rights” or “secret ballots” for workers. (In fact, the bill does not affect current law regarding worker rights to a secret ballot election to choose a union; it merely gives workers a second option and protects workers from strong-arm employer tactics.)

The Heritage Foundation report is replete with assertions about what arbitrators or unions “could” do, and contains the laughable statement that “binding arbitration is rarely used in the private sector.” (Has the author ever read the fine print on a credit card statement?)

And the National Association of Manufacturers claims that it’s the supporters of EFCA who “don’t want to talk about it in honest, open terms”?

It’s the supporters of EFCA who have the facts as well as justice on their side as they face business community opponents who are the real undemocratic bullies. And now workers have an even better appreciation of what’s at stake.

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