The Public Square

Robert Naiman on the The Employee Free Choice Act


Hi, I'm Robert Naiman, and I work with Jobs with Justice, a coalition working to promote workers' rights.

Employees have the right by law to choose to be represented by a union in negotiations with their employer over wages and working conditions. But for many Americans, this is a right that exists in law, but not in practice. The Employee Free Choice Act seeks to ensure that this right exists for all workers, in practice as well as in law.

Currently, employers often do not accept a union when there is majority support. Between a demonstration of majority support in the form of authorization cards and an election ordered by the National Labor Relations Board, employers often mount intimidation campaigns, using fear to thwart the will of the majority. This is tied to the second problem: there is no real punishment for violations of the law by employers. Union supporters are often fired in retaliation for union organizing. Finally, although employers are required by law to bargain in good faith, there is no punishment for failing to do so, and a first contract can be delayed indefinitely.

The Employee Free Choice Act seeks to address these issues by the following: first, employers would be compelled to recognize a union when the workers have demonstrated majority support through authorization cards - "card check." Second, employers would face fines if they violate labor law. Third, if negotiations failed to produce a first contract, either side could appeal for mediation and if that failed, for binding arbitration. This would guarantee that workers who form a union could achieve a first contract.

This is an issue that affects our community. In Effingham, mental health workers at Heartland Human Services formed a union in February 2006. After being on strike for a year, and locked out for six months, they still do not have a contract. In Bloomington, two union supporters at the Pantagraph newspaper were fired.

The Urbana City Council is currently considering a resolution in support of the Employee Free Choice Act. If you live in Urbana, please contact your Alderman to express your views.