The Bottom Line in Labor Law Negotiations

Lawmakers may debate the details of the Employee Free Choice Act, but the fact remains that the goal of labor law reform is to enable workers to exercise their democratic right to form a union, write David Madland and Karla Walter.

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“Norma Rae,” the movie that won Sally Field an Oscar for her portrayal of a textile worker, was made nearly 30 years ago. Yet its basic point—that people who want to join a union are often harassed and intimidated by their employer—is more relevant today than ever. Antiunion employers continue to exploit existing labor law to make it unreasonably difficult for workers to join together in unions. Congress is now poised to revise that broken law, which governs how workers form unions. However, the shape of the reform is still very much in the air.

The Employee Free Choice Act is supported by President Barack Obama, as well as majorities in both the House and the Senate. However, changes to the bill are being discussed to secure 60 votes in the Senate needed to break a filibuster.

Journalists and bloggers have already covered many of the sticking points in the bill and have even suggested political compromises. What has been missing from the debate is a discussion of the values that should guide labor law reform.

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David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project

Karla Walter

Senior Fellow, Inclusive Economy