Employee Free Choice Act should be recognized as basic workers' rights
August 14, 2011 | 9:35 pm CDT

A proposal before Congress is fueling needless controversy over what is, and how it will work.

I am in my sixteenth year writing for CWB. In that time, I have tried to stay focused on helping shop owners and managers run their companies wisely, profitably and equitably.

In doing so, I have brought my own experience to bear, because I have always believed that experience is the best teacher. Theories are all well and good, but reality — where the rubber meets the road — that is where we all live and what we all deal with.

In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a widening gap of late between the two empowered political ideologies in this country. “The Abyss” has become so great that the only thing people on a given side seem to be able to get across it is the mud they sling in the other side’s direction.

Longtime readers will recall a column I wrote some years back, about not letting politics limit your customer pool. It said, essentially, that if you are dumb enough to plaster your favored candidates or beliefs on your company vehicle, you also are probably too dumb to realize that some people will choose not to call you, based purely on your politics.

Reasonable? No. But true, nonetheless.

That is why I have scrupulously avoided writing about politics. If my goal truly is what I claim it to be — helping every reader run his or her company wisely, profitably and equitably — it is counterproductive for me to be perceived as on “the other side” of The Abyss by any reader, lest they allow their politics to get in the way of their own success.

Just as reality trumps theory, facts trump controversy.

Controversy is the result when an issue worthy of clear-eyed, objective consideration becomes politicized. People get so caught up in defending whatever the “experts” on “their” side of The Abyss are saying about the issue that the facts go begging at best and at worst, folks buy into outright lies.

The Employee Free Choice Act
Such an issue sits before Congress right now and I would like to talk about it here, keeping two questions in mind. First: What are the facts of the matter? And second, What does it mean for your business?

At issue is legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act, EFCA for short. There is no lack of opinion about it on both sides of The Abyss. But based on what I have seen so far, I am beginning to wonder if anybody has bothered to actually read the bill. That is a little disturbing, because the whole thing — including nearly two pages listing its sponsors — is less than six pages long.

You can read it yourself. Just type this URL into your browser and you will bypass all The Abysmal hoo-ha and go right to the actual bill: http://www.bcatoday.org/uploadedFiles/BCA_Site/Home_Page/BCA_In_Action/HR%201409%20Text.pdf

As you can see, the meat of the Employee Free Choice Act is that it allows employees to unionize instantly, choosing a representative to bargain on their behalf in order to combat unfair labor practices. EFCA amends the longstanding National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which sets standards for the fair treatment of workers and gives them the right to representation.

Right now, the NLRA requires workers to vote on whether to unionize. Such elections often become a protracted process, allowing for the intimidation of workers by owners and managers opposed to unions.

The EFCA amendment allows workers to vote if they prefer, but gives them a second option: They can unionize on the spot if a majority sign a petition in favor of doing so. A timetable then takes effect, during which negotiations must begin. If those talks reach a complete and total impasse, arbitration kicks in.

I have noted that there are strong and largely tangential opinions on either side of this proposal.

One, from the “pro” side, says EFCA will guarantee better wages and benefits for all workers. This is a lot of malarkey. It presupposes that all companies have bottomless resources and that merely by organizing, employees will be empowered like never before.

Ask any union member just how empowered he really feels on any given day and you will know that the perfect world which many supporters claim EFCA will hasten bringing about is sheer fantasy.

On the “con” side of The Abyss, detractors say EFCA “takes away workers’ rights to a secret ballot.” This, too, is a lie. Under EFCA, workers would remain free to vote secretly on whether to unionize. EFCA merely gives them the option of unionizing instantly by petition.

Playing on fears that the proposal somehow subverts workers’ rights under our democracy’s basic principles is playing, to me at least, perhaps the dirtiest kind of pool.
So let’s get down to brass tacks: What does EFCA do, really?

By my reading, it gives employees who are being mistreated the right to force unresponsive management to the bargaining table. That’s it.

Longtime readers know that I have always espoused a cooperative management approach that encourages owners and managers to state their expectations, to reward hard work that meets or exceeds those expectations and to hold employees accountable when they do not perform as expected.

Put simply, experience has taught me that communication is every manager’s most valuable tool and that without it, it is just a matter of time until a business fails.
If we are in business to make money, it follows that we want our businesses to prosper and to function efficiently in all economic climates. This is much easier when the lines of communication are open.

Readers who have built their businesses based on these principles have nothing to fear from EFCA. They and their employees already know that success results from a team effort involving everyone, regardless of whether their shop is unionized.

Those who believe running a business is about holding employees’ jobs over their heads day in and day out and paying them as little as possible to boot — while extracting as much personal gain from their companies as possible — have plenty to fear from EFCA. And they deserve whatever they get.

Anthony Noel has written for the magazine since 1994. Send e-mail to [email protected]. CWB welcomes opposing points of view. Direct comments to [email protected].

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