More media attention than usual has been devoted to labor law and the potential for some badly needed changes since Barack Obama's election. During his campaign, Obama publicly supported the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
But some in the business community have gone on the offensive to condemn changes in labor law as if the world was going to end if the EFCA passed in Congress.
The NLRA was passed in 1935 and gave workers the right to self-organization and protection if they desired to organize collectively to address workplace issues with their employers. It was a response to the effects of industrial strife and workplace disruptions of interstate commerce.
When employees believed they were being treated as commodities instead of as a people, strikes ensued, costing the economy, workers and employers much needed financial resources during the Great Depression.
"EFCA is nothing more than the rebalancing of a law that has tilted in the employer's favor."
In response, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated a compromise between workers and business that mandated labor disputes and union recognition be settled through legal channels instead of open warfare on the streets. Unknown by many, the real intent of the Act was to keep interstate commerce flowing without disruption. Protecting workers and formally giving them legal recognition were secondary objectives.
Over the decades, as new members of Congress were voted into office, the policies of the NLRA were amended and changed, effectively weakening worker rights. Numerous studies have documented that justice in the workplace no longer exists. For example, workers who lose their jobs because they initiated organizing drives may not receive final verdicts from the NLRA for two to five years, after the appeals are exhausted.
Not only does this have a negative financial impact on workers, it has a chilling effect on other workers who are intimidated by the fact that they may lose their jobs for exercising their legal rights. Now is this fair? Is this justice? Workers witness the fact that labor law does little to nothing to protect them.
What is missing in some of the arguments against the EFCA is how labor relations have changed. If employers followed the rules and actually allowed election without interference, without the firing of employees, without the threat of plant relocation or closing, and actually took a neutral position as intended by the NLRA, then the EFCA wouldn't be on the table. By the time an election for unionization rolls around, employers scare the pants off the workers by threatening job losses in one form or another (illegally of course).
Voting for a political candidate by secret ballot is a bit different than voting to unionize. Political candidates can't fire you, take your job away or demote you if you vote the wrong way. Candidates won't follow you around, coerce you, or constantly make intimidating comments to you all the way up to Election Day.
Many employers do. They know there is no incentive to follow the law, since there are no real penalties for their crimes, except maybe having to reinstate an employee in a few years, having to post notices in the workplace saying the company promises to follow the law or allowing a new election in another month or two,. That's why there is such opposition to the EFCA.
EFCA would be a change to the NLRA that would therefore affect workers' rights. It has nothing to do with "employer rights." It is interesting to find employers who take such an interest in employee rights when it involves a union. Any other time, employee rights never receive much attention from them.
"Workers witness the fact that labor law does little to nothing to protect them."
EFCA is nothing more than the rebalancing of a law that has tilted in the employer's favor. It puts more teeth in the penalties for those who violate the law, allows the option for card-check recognition instead of dragged out election processes and will truly let employees decide for themselves whether or not to organize.
What's wrong with having penalties if the laws are broken? If you don't break the law, you have nothing to fear. Right?
Employer attacks on the EFCA are not out of concern for employees, but fear that workers will regain their rights. If the rules are followed and the laws adhered to, then there is nothing to be afraid of. Only those who seem to know how broken the system is are most fearful of getting it fixed.
Tom Szymanski can be reached at email@example.com.
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