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Let’s Get Real About EFCA
The United States Senate is poised to vote on S. 1041 “The Employee Free Choice Act” sometime in the next few days. Proving its bipartisan popularity, the bill cleared the House of Representatives with a large margin. Minority Whip Roy Blunt, in a pen and pad session with political reporters, warned that it would not be a free vote, and that there would be consequences for any Republican who broke ranks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip are now making similar threats, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The Republican opposition to this bill is ostensibly about preserving the integrity of elections, but in reality, it’s about continuing to represent the interests of their corporate donors.
To review, the most controversial part of the bill re-introduces a “card-check” procedure. What this would do is make it easier for employees seeking to form a union to get straight to the certification process. If an employee signs a document indicating that he is in favor of a union being formed, it’s counted as a vote for the union. If a majority of the employees sign, then the vote is considered to have occurred, and the union proceeds straight to the National Labor Relations Board for certification. Other provisions of the bill provide for increased penalties for employers who violate labor negotiation laws and for making mediation and arbitration easier to reach for first time contracts.
The Republicans in the House and the Senate have few problems with the latter two provisions, but the first is the one that has them rallying the troops. Card-checks make union organizing much easier. Currently, the law makes it all but impossible for employees to form a union. Employers are able to harass and punish union organizers, prohibit them from any on-site organizing activity, subject workers to incredible amounts of compulsory anti-union propaganda during work hours and fire any employee who seems to remotely think that belonging to a union might possibly be something he’d consider considering. In addition to on-site employer harassment, employees are further disadvantaged by the fact that the only times that they can meet to talk about organizing are after work and off-site. Apparently, a group of people who’ve just worked a twelve hour shift in a slaughterhouse are expected to get together for chai lattes at the local Starbucks and talk about their options and 401(k)’s.
Republicans claim that they prefer the status quo in that it preserves a secret ballot process. After all, one of the hallmarks of a democracy is that no one knows how you voted. This doesn’t quite work, though, for two primary reasons. First of all, a place of work is not identical to a society or government. Short of being tried for treason and expelled, there is no real way for the government to punish someone for politicking. It’s a lot harder to legally find someone a traitor than it is to fire him because you don’t like his thoughts. Secondly, management already works by a card-check system, and Republicans consider that to be a hallmark of corporate efficiency and a strength of the American economic system. The difference is that in the corporate world, they’re called “proxies.” Shareholders are constantly signing over their voting authority to other shareholders to create large coalitions and get things done. What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander?
Assuming that we grant their argument is in good faith, however, there are other objections that come into play. Not all votes are best left in the dark and protected by secrecy. Perhaps the legislators in question would prefer it this way, but would anyone be happy if the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate were able to conduct their votes anonymously? Would any shareholder in any corporation feel comfortable with letting board members vote anonymously? When it comes to dictating policy for the country and for the company, we demand accountability and transparency from the voters. Why shouldn’t workers be able to demand the same accountability?
In closing, it’s worth investigating a thought experiment. Let us imagine that in the 2004 election, the Democratic party were able to take all the undecided voters in the country and get to them at their place of work. Let us further imagine that all of them were forced to listen to Democratic negative ads on the Muzak and be subjected to daily viewings of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Furthermore, the Democratic Party hired public relations firms and strategic consultants to figure out how to bully those undecideds who hadn’t been brainwashed into voting Democratic. The Republicans would only be able to approach these voters at home, after hours and on their own efforts. Any attempt to talk to them at work would result in firing and excessive hounding. Would any Republican find this fair? It’s time to put the pretense behind us and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.