The Employee Free Choice Act

February 6, 2007
Blog
From Chairman of the Labor and Education Committee, George Miller:

Lawmakers Introduce Employee Free Choice Act in the House 

Legislation Would Strengthen America's Middle Class by Helping Workers Bargain for Better Pay, Benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As part of Democrats' goal of strengthening America's middle class, senior U.S. lawmakers today introduced legislation that would enable workers to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions by restoring their rights to form unions.

The Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in the House today by Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Robert Andrews (D-NJ), and Peter King (R-NY), would reform a broken union election process in which employers frequently intimidate, harass, reassign, or even fire workers who support the formation of a union.

"Despite the growing economy and skyrocketing corporate profits, the typical American family has actually seen its income decrease over the last several years. Yet at the same time, families are facing much higher costs for many of life's basics, like healthcare, education, transportation, energy, food, and housing," said Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. "There are different factors contributing to this middle class squeeze, but there is no question that one critical factor contributing to the squeeze is the difficulty that workers experience when they want to earn the right to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions."

Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if a majority of workers in a workplace sign cards authorizing a union, then the workers would get a union. By contrast, under current law, even when a majority of workers ask for union representation, their employers can force them to undergo an election process administered by the National Labor Relations Board. In NLRB elections, the deck is stacked heavily against pro-union workers. 

For example, while the employer can discuss the union with its employees anytime -- on company property, and even in one-on-one meetings -- union advocates are severely restricted in their ability to communicate with workers. Moreover, these elections are wide open to abuse by employers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently estimated that employers fire one in five workers who actively advocate for a union. A December 2005 study by American Rights at Work found that 49 percent of employers studied had threatened to close or relocate all or part of the business if workers elected to form a union. And Human Rights Watch has said, "[F]reedom of association is a right under severe, often buckling pressure when workers in the United States try to exercise it." 

Andrews, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions, is convening a hearing on the legislation this Thursday, February 8, 2007.

In addition to allowing workers to form a union through majority sign-up, the Employee Free Choice Act would also:

  • Stiffen penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or first contract drive, including requiring employers to pay treble back pay to workers whom they are found to have illegally fired; and
  • Allow employers and newly formed unions to refer bargaining to mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration if they are not able to agree on a first contract after 90 days of bargaining.

Giving workers the ability to bargain for better wages and benefits is a key part of strengthening America's middle class. Union workers earn 30 percent more, on average, than do nonunion workers, and union workers are much more likely to have healthcare, pensions, and more generous paid time off.

The Employee Free Choice Act has 232 cosponsors in the House. A recent Hart Research poll for the AFL-CIO found that 69 percent of Americans support the Employee Free Choice Act.

For More Information:

Text of Chairman Miller's Statement:  http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/edlabor_dem/rel020607.html

Summary of the Employee Free Choice Act: http://edlabor.house.gov/bills/efca_billsummary.pdf

Text of the Employee Free Choice Act: http://edlabor.house.gov/bills/efca_billtext.pdf

December 2005 American Rights at Work report on problems with current NLRB election process: http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/docUploads/UROCUEDcompressedfullreport%2Epdf