Employee Free Choice: Democracy at Work

The Employer Free Choice Act provides a fairer way for workers to choose union representation while preserving the secret ballot.

As the Senate inches closer to ending debate and voting on cloture for the Employee Free Choice Act, opponents of this crucial bill have increased their misleading rhetoric about the measure to try and obscure its purpose and critical impact.

Anti-labor forces are saying the EFCA will eliminate a worker’s “right” to a “secret ballot” election to determine whether or not they want union representation.

This is simply false. The EFCA, among its many improvements for workers’ rights, would allow a group of employees a choice in how they decide on unionization. If the legislation is passed, employees would be offered “card check”—the opportunity to demand union representation by a signing a card or petition—in addition to “secret ballot.” If a simple majority of employees sign the card, they are automatically entitled to a union.

Employees can continue using a secret ballot vote to form a union, but for most workers this isn’t the most appealing choice. Under the current secret ballot system, employers can force elections off for weeks, leaving ample time to illegally fire organizing workers, make threats on job security, and intimidate and indoctrinate workers with mandatory anti-union information sessions.

In fact, 92 percent of employers force employees to undergo these closed-door meetings, half of employers threaten to shut down operations or fire workers, and a quarter of them actually follow through with their threats to terminate employment. The idea that these are free and fair elections is an insult to what we consider fair American democracy.

The EFCA, in addition to providing a faster and fairer path to unionization, also increases penalties for employers who still try to illegally and negatively influence the workers’ attempts to organize. As it stands, penalties and fines for obstruction of organizing are so weak that they are generally a slap on the wrist for employers and far less expensive than the cost of paying the fair wages and benefits and securing the safe workplaces that workers demand.

The EFCA will go beyond just fair organizing. A full one-third of employers currently refuse to negotiate a first contract with employees who are brave enough to still vote yes in patently unfair elections. The EFCA would force arbitration after 30 days of a labor-employer first-contract negotiation impasse.

As a whole, the EFCA creates a freer, fairer system for employees to express their support or opposition to union representation. And surveys show that 60 million people would choose representation if the choice was presented to them, indicating just how broken the system is—from voting to negotiating—and just how important passage of EFCA really is.

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