Barack Obama enjoyed strong support from organized labor during his historic campaign for the White House. Now, labor leaders and grassroots union activists are looking to the new President to put his political weight behind the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
EFCA’s most notable provision holds that if a majority of workers sign authorization cards that say they want union representation, then the employer must recognize that union and agree to bargain collectively. This allows unions to bypass costly and contentious campaigns, during which many employers pressure and intimidate workers into voting against union representation.
EFCA also calls for mediation and arbitration to be used to facilitate collective bargaining agreements for newly recognized unions and beefs up penalties for unfair labor practices. Overall, EFCA is designed to effectuate the original intent behind the National Labor Relations Act, which is to include collective bargaining as a key component in an American system of employment relations.
Obama expressed support for EFCA during the campaign, but many are wondering whether it will be a legislative priority during the early period of his presidency. Organized labor sees EFCA as a vitally important legal tool towards reviving union membership rolls and worker power in America. Given the intense employer opposition to EFCA at a time when a new President needs all hands on deck to deal with the economic crisis, it will be interesting to see how Obama navigates this one.
Fifty years ago, American business regarded labor unions as a pesky, sometimes difficult, but inevitable presence, according them — reluctantly perhaps — a seat at the table in the world of industrial relations. Since then, we have witnessed an unprecedented amount of money and resources being devoted to bring down unions and defeat union organizing drives.
I support unions because, warts and all, they are necessary for maintaining and building a middle class and for serving as a source of countervailing power against the enormous ability of American business to shape the national and global policy agenda. A strong, inclusive labor movement is a central key towards affirming dignity for all workers. EFCA is a meaningful step forward towards that end.
If you want to learn more, here are some helpful links:
For an article by journalist Esther Kaplan in The Nation magazine examining the political fight over EFCA from a perspective sympathetic to the labor movement, go to: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090126/kaplan.
For a short briefing paper explaining and supporting EFCA that I helped to author for Americans for Democratic Action, go to: http://www.adaction.org/media/EFCA.pdf.
American Rights at Work is a labor-friendly research and advocacy group engaging in extensive public education about EFCA: http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/employee-free-choice-act/home-102/.
For a thought provoking piece by Professor Roy Adams that says EFCA does not go far enough to affirm and protect the dignity of workers, go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/labor_studies_journal/v031/31.4adams.pdf.
For a contrary view, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is putting maximum resources into opposing EFCA and unions in general: http://www.uschamber.com/unions.htm.