To its credit, organized labor hasn't been dormant since the disappointing 2009 defeat of the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), legislation that would have given workers the right to join a union simply by signing cards ("card check"). Alas, the EFCA, which raised the hopes of labor activists across the country, but was subsequently torpedoed by anti-labor Republicans and gutless Democrats, is now ancient history.
Still frustrated by management's overwhelming advantages in keeping employees from becoming unionized, the AFL-CIO has been diligently petitioning the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) to remove some of the roadblocks. Even if the EFCA didn't become law, working people need to be given a fair and fighting chance to join a union. The NLRB's proposed rule changes, modest as they are, may help in that effort.
Because management gains a huge advantage by drawing out (stalling) the union certification process -- inundating employees with shock troops, threats, and virulent anti-union propaganda -- one of the proposed changes is to speed up the procedure. The proposed change will allow union organizers to file their required forms electronically instead of in writing. In the grand scheme of things, this modest adjustment doesn't amount to much. Indeed, all it does is streamline the process a bit.
But based on the exaggerated and over-heated responses from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business), this minor administrative rule change will result in a proletarian revolution of sorts, wresting power from America's businesses and placing it firmly in the hands of the big bad labor unions.
Judging from opinion polls showing that approximately 60 percent of American workers have an interest in joining a union, there seems to be a healthy, grassroots respect for the labor movement. Yet, stunningly, national union membership (public and private combined) hovers at barely over 12-percent. This startling disconnect indicates, among other things, that management has been remarkably successful in smothering or deflecting union membership drives.
In an attempt to give unions additional access, another proposed NLRB rule change would require management to turn over to union organizers the e-mail addresses of eligible voters. Considering that we now live in the global electronic age, such a request not only seems reasonable, it seems like a no-brainer. But again, because Big Business views ease of accessibility to its workers as a threat, it's portraying this request as an administrative hardship.
A third NLRB rule change would require businesses to post an 11 X 17-inch poster explaining workers' rights in seeking union representation -- rights clearly laid out in the landmark 1935 National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the Wagner Act). This summary of worker's rights will be required to be posted on the same bulletin board as all other company correspondence.
Again, we're talking about a simple, straightforward poster here, not the Communist Manifesto. A poster summarizing the salient features of a 75-year old labor law. Moreover, it will cost businesses nothing. The posters will be placed on existing bulletin boards and will be supplied, free of charge, by the NLRB.
Nonetheless, reactions have been close to hysterical. The AFL-CIO reports that the rightwing website GOPUSA referred to the poster rule as "another disgusting government intrusion into private business." Really?? Reminding folks of the law is now an "intrusion"? Have we sunk that low? Makes you wonder how they'd feel about being required to post the Bill of Rights.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org