The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce has followed the position taken by the Indiana and national Chambers of Commerce by publicly opposing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The EFCA is a piece of federal labor legislation aimed at rebalancing the power between workers and their employers in the workplace. EFCA would restore workers' rights lost due to unfair rulings by hostile Labor Board appointments, illegal tactics utilized by employers and the fact there is little incentive for following the law because penalties are effectively non-existent.
The Chamber's position that it is worried about how the new law would affect employees is comical. I never realized the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce was the voice for working people. I would have more respect for that proposition if they would come clean and say the obvious; they are concerned that they might lose the ability to circumvent the law. Let's remember what it states in Section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act and see how it compares to the real world as we see it today:
It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.
The workplace situation witnessed today speaks for itself, whether or not there is actually any ability for employees to freely associate for self-organizing. According to National Labor Relations Board data, researched by Cornell University's Kate Bronfenbrenner in an updated study, "No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing," the facts are pretty clear.
Picket the Chamber
* Friday, June 19, 2009
* 400 West 7th St.
* 2 p.m.
South Central Indiana Jobs with Justice
When employers faced union elections between 1999 and 2003, 34 percent of the companies fired pro-union workers, 47 percent threatened to cut wages and benefits, 57 percent threatened to close worksites and 63 percent interrogated employees during one-on-one meetings. Then, after employees overcame contested election results and employers exhausted the appeals processes, 52 percent of newly formed unions had no collective bargaining agreement one year after a successful election. Two years after an election, 37 percent of newly formed unions still had no agreement.
The contradictions are clear. First, why do all business transactions require signing contracts between employers for products and services, yet employer contracts with their workers are unacceptable? And how happy would employers be if each contract signing for a product or service took a year or more to complete? That would be scandalous!
Second, employer groups have organized together to pursue their members' interests. We have the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Homebuilders Association. However, when a group of employees organize together to pursue their interests, it is demonized and considered an infringement upon employer rights.
Another claim by the Bloomington Chamber is that small business owners will be hurt by passage of the EFCA. Under current labor law, small business owners face union elections if two or more employees want to form a union. The ECFA does nothing to change that. I don't see any labor unions spending their limited resources on organizing the millions of businesses who employ only a few workers. These workers are more than welcome, but it just isn't realistic.
"When employers faced union elections between 1999 and 2003, 34 percent of the companies fired pro-union workers."
The claim that any union election will have the secret ballot taken away from the employees is a lie. The EFCA simply adds card-check recognition as another option for the employees in the process of deciding whether to be represented by a union. Like it or not, just look at the statistics. If employers followed the law and abided by the rules, this option would never have been proposed.
The Chamber further contends that new penalties for breaking the law and mandatory arbitration for first contracts are unfair to employers. Well, if employers treated their employees with dignity and respect, unionization wouldn't be an issue for them.
And, if employers didn't break the law in the first place, they wouldn't have to worry about paying any penalties. What a world they live in, where lawbreakers aren't expected to pay the consequences? Finally, if unscrupulous employers bargained in good faith like they are supposed to by law, there wouldn't be a need for arbitration.
Look at the statistics provided above. Employers do not make it easy on employees in securing their first contracts. Just to let it be known, unions would prefer to bargain on their own terms too. Unions aren't always on the receiving end of good contracts when arbitrators are part of the process as currently required under some existing contracts and within the public sector. Unions prefer to bargain in good faith and hope to settle with the best terms possible.
However, there has to be a starting point for a first contract when employees decide to unionize. This is part of the solution under the EFCA. Unions need employers to stay profitable so employees can continue their employment. It isn't the goal of unions to put employers out of business, that just doesn't make any sense.
"The claim that any union election will have the secret ballot taken away from the employees is a lie."
The Chamber's position isn't unexpected or shocking. As the national Jobs with Justice organization has pointed out, the U.S Chamber of Commerce and its allies in the past have fought against: the eight-hour workday for women, child labor laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Voting Rights Act, Raising Americans with Disability Act access standards, overtime payments for millions of workers through reforms of the Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA ergonomics regulations that would protect workers from occupational injuries, increases in the minimum wage, and living wages. And now they've added the Employee Free Choice Act to the list.
Locally, the Chamber has also fought against the Bloomington Living Wage ordinance (remember how it was going to ruin small businesses?), fought to place a greater burden on workers to "fix" Unemployment Insurance in Indiana, and now the Employee Free Choice Act.
Let's hope the Chamber will stop attacking workers' rights and concentrate on good jobs for hard-working families in our community. The same thing unions have always fought for, and will continue to do.
Tom Szymanski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.