NEW YORK NURSE: March 2009
by Mark Genovese
Newspapers are filled with reports about CEOs who went too far.
Already earning salaries 180 times that of an average worker, many CEOs have employment contracts that reward them with multibillion-dollar bonuses and “golden parachutes,” even after leading their corporations to failure.
At the same time, workers are losing health coverage, pensions, and even jobs. They are beginning to ask, “Don’t we deserve contracts that protect us?”
A new President and Congressional majority are now working on turning our economy around. An important part of recovery will be strengthening workers’ ability to form unions. A growing, bipartisan coalition of policymakers is supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (HR.800, S.1041), a measure that would simplify the organizing process.
More than half of U.S. workers – 60 million – say they would join a union if they could. Although workers currently have the option of obtaining representation when a majority of employees sign cards, this can be done only if the employer agrees. Most employers choose the National Labor Relations Board election process, which is easier for them to manipulate.
The current system to protect workers during union organizing is broken. Changes to labor law during the past 70 years have given employers more power to influence elections and weakened the rights of workers. Employers have been known to use both legal and illegal methods to silence union supporters – firing them, threatening to close a worksite, and forcing them to attend anti-union meetings.
In addition, because of employers’ stalling tactics and bad-faith negotiating, only a third of newly formed unions achieve a first contract in less than a year. Federal penalties are too weak to deter violations.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), employees will still be able to choose between majority signup and an NLRB election when they want to organize. The difference will be that workers will decide, instead of management. The act will impose stiffer financial penalties on employers who engage in illegal activity. It also will guarantee that new bargaining units have a smoother road to negotiating a first contract, requiring mediation and arbitration if both sides can’t reach an agreement within three months of union recognition.
“Protecting the right to form unions is about maintaining the American middle class,” said Richard Drucker, NYSNA organizing director. “It’s no coincidence that as union membership declines, there are growing numbers of jobs with low pay, poor benefits, and little or no security. If more workers had the ability to join unions free from intimidation and fear of reprisal, the labor movement would collectively have a greater ability to raise living standards, improve health care, and halt outsourcing.”
Communities with strong unions have higher standards of living. Union members make 30% more than workers who don’t have unions. They’re 62% more likely to have employer-covered health coverage, and four times more likely to have pensions.
So who is opposing the Employee Free Choice Act? Those same CEOs, of course. Pro-business groups are spending millions to campaign against it. These are the same people who oppose the minimum wage and healthcare reform.
In 2007, the U.S House of Representatives passed the EFCA and it had majority support in the Senate. But the Senate minority killed the legislation, emboldened by President George W. Bush’s promise to veto it.
“We’ve elected a new Congress that has promised to stand beside us in this fight. President Barack Obama has promised to sign it,” Drucker said. “We can build an economy that works for everyone if workers can exercise the freedom to form unions.”
For more information on the EFCA and to sign an online petition, visit www.aflcio.org.