THE BLOG
03/11/2009 07:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Your Boss Won't Tell You

Yesterday, the Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in the House and Senate. It's being supported by, among others, millions of American workers who would like a union - and with it a union contract. It's being opposed by CEOs who you can be sure all bargained for a contract before they ever set foot in their corner offices.

This law is the most important piece of labor legislation in decades and a critical component in the effort to restore our economy.

In recent years, Americans have worked harder than ever and yet they have shared in less of the wealth they created. Worker productivity is up, and yet real median household income is down. Simultaneously, CEO pay has risen to as much as 400 times more than average worker pay.

The Employee Free Choice Act would bring common sense to the workplace. The law states that if a majority of employees sign up to form a union, they get one. It also simplifies dispute resolution in first contract negotiations, and enacts tougher penalties on employers if they unfairly interfere with union organizing.

Despite lies being spread by CEOs, giant corporations, and chambers of commerce, the legislation would not eliminate the secret ballot election. There are currently two ways to form a union: secret ballot and majority sign-up. After the Employee Free Choice Act passes, there still will be two ways to form a union: like now, secret ballot and majority sign-up. The critical difference will be that the workers, rather than the CEO, will decide which method to use. Under current law, employers are free to ignore majority sign-up and demand a secret ballot election.

In trying to protect the status quo, opponents of the legislation wave a flag of democracy and equate the law with an attack on a system in workplaces that is just like our political elections. The problem with that argument is that workplace secret ballot elections do not in any way resemble elections for our local, state, or federal elected officials.

In most secret ballot elections, employers regularly coerce workers to vote against the union. In 25 percent of all campaigns, employers illegally fire pro-union workers. Employers delay the election date in order to buy time for outside "consultants" to intimidate their employees. The employer has access to a worker five days-a-week and has massive economic leverage.

By comparison, union organizers have little leverage and can campaign only during work breaks or after hours.

While employer intimidation and retaliation is technically illegal under federal labor laws, the protections are difficult to enforce in practice. Employers are advised by lawyers on how to avoid punishment. When they are punished, they are generally only required to stop the practice. Intimidating and even firing workers is standard operating procedure and there's little reason under current law for an employer to do otherwise. The legislation would strengthen penalties for this behavior.

Even calling the secret ballot process an "election" stretches the meaning of that word pretty far when you consider the employer's power to influence the vote.

If we play along with the phony "democracy" message being offered by the anti-Employee Free Choice Act crowd, trying to form a union via secret ballot election would be like trying to run for a seat in Congress but not being given equal access to call the voters, mail them campaign literature, or talk with them face-to-face. Moreover, it would be like running against an opponent who controls the voter's ability to put food on his or her table. What is democratic about that?

The truth about those who oppose the legislation is that they really don't want to pay decent wages, offer good benefits, and guarantee a safe work environment.

Ten years ago, workers at a Goya Foods facility in Miami voted to form a union with UNITE (a predecessor union of UNITE HERE). These workers have won every single legal decision, yet a decade later the company still refuses to recognize the will of their employees. When the Employee Free Choice Act is passed, if an employer and a union cannot agree on a first contract within 90 days, either party can refer the dispute to federal mediation -- and if that does not work, the dispute will be referred to arbitration.

If we make it easier to form a union, we can rebuild our economy from the bottom up. We can stem the tide of workers losing their jobs, their health care, and their retirement benefits. With a union wage, workers will have the ability to spend money on every Main Street in every town across this country. It's those dollars that keep our economy going. When we pass the Employee Free Choice Act we will strengthen the middle class and grow our economy.

If Americans can join a church or temple, join a political party, get a credit card, or get married by signing their name, it is ridiculous that they can't join a union in exactly the same way.

To join the fight for Employee Free Choice visit UNITEHEREforChange.org