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Jan 30, 2009

Coming soon: a fight to the death over choice (but not that kind).

By Alan Stoga

Watch FLYP Media’s video editorial for this issue, which discusses the upcoming bipartisan fight over the Employee Free Choice Act…and how it’ll test the new president.

The Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s massive economic stimulus package may be just a foretaste of a far nastier political fight coming in a few months.
Unions and the left are pushing hard for passage of something called the Employee Free Choice Act, known as the EFCA. Only the collapse of the economy at the end of last year persuaded them to delay their demand that President Obama include it in the program for his first 100 days.
On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, speaking for big business, says that the war over the bill will be “armageddon.” Companies from Wal-Mart and McDonald’s to AIG and Citigroup have reportedly made defeating the EFCA one of their top legislative priorities.
Both sides say they will spend millions on the fight. That could kill whatever bipartisan spirit is still left in Washington by the time the bill comes to a vote, which Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid says should happen this summer.
The battle may already be claiming its first casualty: Representative Hilda Solis’s nomination to be labor secretary is hung up over her support for the bill. Solis is strongly pro-labor: her father was a Teamster, and as a congresswoman, she marched on the picket line during a high-profile grocery store strike in her Southern California congressional district.
But her bigger sin—at least from the perspective of the anonymous Republican senator who put a hold on her nomination—might be that she voted for the Employee Free Choice Act when it passed the House in 2007. The bill later died in the Senate, when Republicans made it clear they wouldn’t let it come to a vote.
What’s all the noise about?
The proposed law would allow workers interested in forming a union the option of simply signing a card, instead of requiring them to vote in a secret ballot. This so-called “card check” process—which would make it easier to organize—was the law of the land until businesses persuaded Congress to require secret-ballot elections.
Unions say management often drags out elections, using the time to pressure workers to vote “no.” Big business says that only secret elections guarantee honest votes. Both sides agree that card checks make it easier to unionize.
Which, of course, is the point. And, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that last year, union members earned 28 percent more than non-union workers—$886 per week versus $691 per week—the battle is not about labor theory or even about democracy.
It is about dollars and cents. Even more so, since union membership has surprisingly started to grow again—from 12 percent of employed workers in 2006 to 12.4 percent in 2008.
President Obama, who supports the EFCA, would like to avoid a big fight over it. But, on this one, he may have no choice: after years during which the system favored the rich, it’s labor’s turn.

Take FLYP’s poll: If you could, would you join a union?


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