The Employee Free Choice Act is a vital piece of legislation for rebuilding America’s middle class, reining in corporate greed, protecting workers from intimidation by holding corporations accountable and providing employees – not their employers – with choices in regard to forming a union on the job.

In this era of bank bailouts and stimulus packages, the EFCA doesn’t cost the government a dime. It is a cost-free way for the government to help improve the lives of workers.

EFCA restores the fundamental rights of workers to choose whether and how to unionize. This is a choice they have been denied for decades. It will level the playing field so workers can have a voice to bargain for job security, better health care, wages, and secure retirements.

The act has three basic elements.

Unions would become certified as bargaining representatives by the National Labor Relations Board when a majority of the eligible voters sign a union authorization card. This process, called “card check,” is a form of voluntary recognition of unions.

EFCA would not abolish traditional elections, however, as workers could still choose their preferred union formation process – whether elections, or majority sign up. And if more than 30 percent, but less than a majority, of workers sign union authorization cards, a secret ballot election would be mandated if requested by the employer.

The act closes loopholes in labor relations law which now allows employers to engage in delays and workplace intimidation. EFCA provides for mediation and binding arbitration if an agreement is not reached between the bargaining unit and the employer.

Thirdly, EFCA provides penalties for employers who engage in unfair labor practices while employees are attempting to unionize or obtaining a first contract. The civil penalties include fines of up to $20,000, plus increases damages against employers when employees are discharged or discriminated against during organizing campaigns or contract drives.

The EFCA sets to restore the intent of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which gave workers the to freely organize and bargain collectively.

In a September 2000 study of National Labor Relation Board representation elections, 51 percent of employers illegally threaten to close down a worksite when employees try to join together to form a union. More than 90 percent force employees to attend intimidating one-on-one meetings with their supervisors.

A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that illegal firings occurred in one-fourth of all union representation elections over this decade. In 2007 alone, more than 29,000 workers were fired or disciplined for union activity in the United States.

Opponents of EFCA have run a masterful campaign of mis-information and outright lies. Their half truths, partial truths and lies are so well put together they could have place on the NY Times Fiction Best Seller List

You may have heard that unions have been traditionally formed through secret ballots and that card check is a radical departure from the norm. These are inaccurate statements. Many employers already accept card check organizing without requesting an election.

At least one recent study suggests there are more U.S. workers organized into unions through card check than by NLRB secret ballot elections. Large companies such as AT&T and Kaiser Permanente have used majority sign-up successfully for years.

Another favorite falsehood voiced by critics is EFCA will undermine workers’ democratic rights (afforded them under National Labor Board elections) by providing an alternative to secret ballot elections. This too is fiction.

The current system of NLRB secret ballot elections is not truly democratic. A study by Gordon Lafer, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor, Education and Resource Center concluded that except secret ballots, NLRB elections don’t actually posses any elements of a democratic election.

He cites, “Unequal access to voter lists, absence of financial controls and monopoly control (by employers) of media and campaigning within the workplace” as examples. Lafer also discusses that even under NLRB elections, employers control voting times, locations and open-ended delays in implementing the election results.

How is this democratic? It’s not.

The EFCA is a step towards righting the economy. Union workers make an average 30 percent more than non-union workers, which amounts to $200 per week or $10,000 per year. Union workers are also 50 percent more likely to have employee provided health insurance and better pension plans than non-union employees.

Enabling more workers to choose to form a union via the EFCA is a concrete step toward building an economy with lasting strength and a way to ensure workers, not just CEOs or stock holders, benefit from the economic progress they help create.

One ingredient in the recipe for the recovery of the middle class is passing the EFCA.

Will Fessenden is a past chair of the Androscoggin County Democratic Committee, considers himself a “community/grassroots organizer” and serves on several nonprofit boards and committees. He works in Auburn and lives in Sabattus with his wife Jennifer and their two boys. E-mail: [email protected]

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