How About Some Employee Free Choice?

By Mitchell Kaidy

Two years ago, when the Employee Free Choice Act was filed in the US Senate, organized labor waged an all-out campaign to justify and enact it. Clearly benefiting the unorganized as well as unionized worker, it represented not only better wages and benefits for workers and families, but organized labor’s chance to flex its imputed political muscle.

Covered by both the conventional and electronic media, the issue then swung from Washington to the local level, as local labor councils endorsed it to their Congressional representatives.

At the same time, organized as well as industry groups clashed in attempts to justify it to the public. In this campaign, industry spinners clearly won. As expected, it was widely misrepresented, especially by the established media, and received more cons than pros.

Opponents claimed it was anti-democratic, even though it was actually the opposite. They said it favored unions at the expense of management, when for decades the situation had cried for balance and correction.

In fact, the legislation aimed to even the power balance — neither side gained unfairly — while promising smoother, more evenhanded relations over the years of the contract as well as in future contracts.

The bill pivots on a signed card from an employee indicating the employee’s written and certified desire to join a union and be covered by a negotiated contract. The decades-long flaw would be eliminated of management repeatedly delaying a representation election while the labor force turns over. This is, and has been, management’s key: Taking advantage of the natural turnover, companies could interview new prospects, hiring only those who profess opposition to unions.

But months and years have slid by, with little being heard about one of organized labor’s most ballyhooed and significant proposals in decades. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy (D-Mass.), the lion who was one of the legislation’s most respected and influential sponsors, is gone; the bill is buried in the Senate and House labor committee archives, and these days even the legislation’s most enthusiastic boosters seem to be hiding. Another negative sign is that labor websites report little movement, barely keeping their once-lively reports updated.

Locally, Chambers of Commerce around the nation must consider the legislation to be beyond rescue, because they have stopped actively misrepresenting it — preferring to subject it to another form of death — abandonment and silence.

Has the bill actually suffered a silent death? Have the opponents succeeded in demonizing and misrepresenting it as some kind of an affront to democracy? Not much is heard from Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the once zealous chairman of the Senate labor committee, or his counterpart in the House of Representatives, where Rep. George Miller has made no evident move to discharge the Employee Free Choice Act.

Does that mean that the majority Democrats have abandoned it in both houses?

A search of the internet finds darkness — not even discussion about how to win votes in districts that appear opposed. The conclusion then is inescapable that the initiative has been misrepresented to death, its early enthusiasm vanished, including vows of legislative support on the local level. And it’s significant that those vows of local support were made months and years ago!

If silence and coverup constitute a death knell, then the ringer is in place, and it’s ready to be tolled—for the wrong cause.

Mitchell Kaidy of Rochester is a former president of the Empire State Council, New York Newspaper Guild (AFL-CIO).

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2010

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