The business community is scared shitless by the prospect of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) becoming law. They have conjured up images of aggressive union organizers stalking defenseless worker prey, of American productivity undermined by archaic union contracts at the very moment the American economy needs neoliberal flexibility the most. Rush Limbaugh has invoked the specter of Tony Soprano-inspired pipe-wielding mobsters.
Limbaugh & Co. do not, of course, spend much time explaining the labor law status quo.
EFCA restores balance to a broken process. Currently, workers are often forced to go through National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections, maneuvering through a gauntlet of threats, firings and one-on-one pressure meetings, courtesy of their boss and outside anti-union consultants. And first contracts? Good luck.
With EFCA, workers could organize by signing union authorization cards, a system known as "card check." The bill would also allow binding mediation and arbitration for first contracts and stiffen penalties for all too frequent employer violations of labor law.
EFCA is not about what John Sweeney or Andy Stern want. Indeed, it is workers who go it alone, without the support of a large, national union, who need card check the most. The weaker the union, the more the byzantine NLRB elections process tilts in the bossman's favor.
As I wrote for In These Times, Philadelphia security guards have been trying to organize a union since 2005. And they've been doing so without the support of a strong, national union (SEIU left town after a controversial 2006 neutrality agreement with AlliedBarton, the guard's contactor).
The guards, 85% of whom are African-American, are paid just $10.03 per hour and receive minimal benefits. The majority of guards at the Philadelphia Museum of Art signed cards in November 2008 -- if EFCA were law, they would have a union now.
Things are looking tough in the Senate, especially after Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter's politically cynical flip flop on the issue. The move may, however, fail to save him his seat. And if Pennsylvania sends two Democrats to Washington in November 2010, EFCA might just pass over his politically dead body.
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