The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing Prosperity

This article is by John Enyeart!

The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing

Prosperity

In January, Congress and President-elect Obama can lay the foundation for getting us out of our current economic crisis by passing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  The EFCA would allow workers to organize unions by signing authorizations.  Currently workers have to sign a petition, send that petition to the National Labor Relations Board, and then wait for the NLRB to schedule an election.  Between the petition drive and the election employers typically turn to a well-rehearsed set of intimidation tactics–such as sending threatening mailings to employees’ homes and firing union leaders–in order to frighten workers and prevent them from establishing a local union as their bargaining agent.  If passed, EFCA would also guarantee workers a contract within ninety days of organizing, and levy stiff penalties against employers who refused to recognize these new unions.

Like the Wagner Act, which guaranteed workers the right to organize in 1935, this measure will lay the foundation for a future round of American prosperity.  In fact, union membership went from a little over 3.5 million in 1934 to 13.5 million in 1943.  When the post-World War II economic boom occurred, workers were well positioned, because of their unions, to claim a larger share of the wealth their work produced.  By the late 1970s conservative attacks on organized labor, including the constant appointments of pro-business advocates to the National Labor Relations Board and state sponsored violence, saw union membership plummet.  Not surprisingly, because of this decline real wages have not gone up for the vast majority of Americans since 1976.

The decrease of union membership paralleled the skyrocketing of CEO pay.  The post-1976 period also saw workers forced to substitute using credit to maintain a decent standard of living.  To give you a sense of what I mean consider that in 1978 the average CEO made 35 times what the average worker made.  Today he, in a few very rare cases she, makes 364 times the average worker.  This growing inequality comes as corporate profits have more than quadrupled since 1973.  The EFCA will allow people to organize, and, in turn, increase their wages and save the economy by consuming.

It is important to note that sixty-five percent of Americans, according to an opinion poll by Peter D. Hart Associates, support unions.  On March 1, 2007, House members recognized this fact and voted 241-185 to enact the bipartisan sponsored EFCA.  The measure failed to come to the Senate floor as Republicans filibustered it.  Now the fate of this bill is in the hands of Democrats who owe a great deal of their recent electoral success to what remains of the American labor movement.

Politicians can call for and pass stimulus packages, bailouts, and tax cuts all they want.  Yet until those who do most of the nation’s labor are brought into the federal recovery plan our solutions will remain incomplete.  As a nation we need to promote a decent living standard, which will fuel consumer spending, by encouraging the rise of real wages.  Consumer spending represents roughly 65 to 70% of total spending.  The Employee Free Choice Act is an essential first step in restoring our prosperity.  Providing workers with the ability to organize without fear of employer reprisal will allow them the power, through unions, to obtain the wages necessary to have a decent living and collectively help us spend our way out of our current crisis.

John Enyeart

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

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This entry was posted in Op-ed and tagged , , , , by Jordi. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jordi

I am an assistant professor in the Management School at Bucknell University. I specialize in organization theory, social networks, and studying the network society. I have three children, including twins. They love bouncing on the couch, legos, music, and my waffles. My wife teaches English at the same university. I am interested in most things, but these days, networks, social entrepreneurs, the environment, innovation, and virtual worlds. Finding Hidden Abodes and Shaking Iron Cages since 1972

4 thoughts on “The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing Prosperity

  1. I fully agree that the
    EFCA is needed to restore fairness to the unionization process and to help to raise living standards for workers. The productivity gap (the difference between increases in worker productivity and worker pay) has contributed to both corporate profits and CEO pay. It lies at the heart of the increased work day and work intensity, and burgeoning worker debt that face us today.

    At the same time I think something more than the reinvigoration of unions is needed. As long as workers are denied a say over the surplus they create, corporations are free to use the surplus to undermine the efforts of unions and to undo regulations that are imposed on them. Also it strikes me that we should not be advocating for a growth strategy to resolve economic injustice if it comes at the expense of the ecosystem. I wonder if there is a way to articulate a strategy for achieving greater economic justice that goes beyond regulation and Keynesian pump priming, one that gets at the issue of the wastefulness of consumer capitalism without denying the legitimate claims of labor and without painting their efforts to provide for their families as consumerism.

  2. I am often stunned at the lack of interest among mainstream media to cover labor issues and unions. This is mostly my impression, but the paucity of interest contributes to the sense that unions are somehow anachronistic or peculiar. The absence of coverage of the apparently regular management intimidation and union busting is an example. Most striking to me in the lack of salience in the public mind about the productivity gap. The graphs I have seen of the productivity gap, profit and CEO pay over time tell the story so clearly. Maybe we need a guerrilla economics and accounting movement to put enough knowledge into the hands of enough people to understand the productivity gap instantly.

    Another comment is that the framing of this issue is not good for a labor agenda. When I hear about it on CNN or Fox news (not as sure about in newspapers), they issue is framed as a favor for unions versus democratic process for workers. This framing plays into the cultural and popular history of unionism as collectivist, perhaps corrupt, “special interest” politics, and vaguely un-American.

    The chicken and egg problem is
    a) do you get the law passed to improve organizing conditions whcih will produce more unions and hence more positive examples to counteract the negative view of Unions.
    b) do you try and change the terms of the political debate, the cultural inferences, the meta-cognitive framing to create better conditions to change the legal and political framework for organizing?

  3. New comment.

    This is the kind of short and direct op-ed which should find other outlets besides our blog.

    How is that going to be carried out?

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