This article is by John Enyeart!
The Employee Free Choice Act and Reestablishing
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.