Can Dems and Labor Pass EFCA?

No bigger issue for labor unions and management groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers is likely to emerge during President Obama's first term than the one that began today. Supporters such as the AFL-CIO say the Employee Free Choice Act is a measure to level the playing field for workers and boost the U.S. middle class, but to the Chamber and its allies, the bill would open the door wide to unionization and eliminate secret-ballot elections to decide whether workplaces unionize.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a hearing on the bill today. Foes of the bill said they blitzed the Capitol halls today to register strong disapproval, and they proclaimed the number of sponsors of the reintroduced bill had dropped slightly this time from its first go-round.

Democrats hold the gavels and control committee action in both chambers. U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. and chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, posted his defense of EFCA on the committee's Web site today. "The Employee Free Choice Act is simple. The bill will help make our economy work for everyone again by giving workers the tools they need to bargain for fair wages, benefits and treatment," it said. Miller said the bill does this in three ways: It gives workers the choice of whether to form a union through majority sign-up or through the National Labor Relations Board election process, it guarantees a first union contract through mediation and arbitration: and it strengthens penalties for violations against workers who are trying to organize or negotiate a first contract.

The bill would require that, just as the NLRB is required to seek a federal court injunction against a union when there is reasonable cause to believe the union has violated the law, NLRB must also seek a federal court injunction against an employer when there is reasonable cause to believe the employer has discharged or discriminated against employees, threatened to discharge or discriminate against employees, or engaged in conduct that significantly interferes with employee rights during an organizing or first contract drive.

Witnesses at today's HELP hearing included Dr. Paula Voos, chair of the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University; Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (Washington, D.C.); and Dr. Anne Layne-Farrar, a director of LECG Consulting in Chicago. Layne-Farrar published a study March 3 that estimates U.S. unemployment would rise by 2.3 million to 5.4 million people in the following year if EFCA increased private-sector union membership by 5 to 10 percentage points. For every 3 percentage points gained in union membership through card checks and mandatory arbitration, the following year's job creation would fall by about 1.5 million jobs, Layne-Farrar concluded.

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