As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Employee Free Choice And Protecting Workers From Illegal Firings

The AFL-CIO is meeting this week in Miami, and today Joe Biden is addressing the convention. Earlier in the week Barack Obama delivered taped remarks and explicitly mentioned the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

I want to repeat something that those of you who joined us for the Task Force announcement heard me say: I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, and to my administration, labor unions are a big part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests – because we cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.

The truth is, the road ahead will not be easy. The economic crisis we face is vast and the challenges we confront are many; you know this because your members have already had to make sacrifices. But I have every confidence that if we are willing to do the difficult work that must be done, we will emerge from these trials stronger and more prosperous than we were before. And as we confront this crisis and work to provide health care to every American, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, move toward a clean energy economy, and pass the Employee Free Choice Act, I want you to know that you will always have a seat at the table.

More importantly, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has provided the data for why the status quo in labor/management negotiations is unacceptable. What we have right now is essentially a criminal operation being run by wealthy corporations to illegally intimidate, threaten and even fire their workers who seek to organize. This has been a standard for over 50 years, since the passage of anti-labor legislation under Harry Truman. But since the Reagan era and even more recently, the lack of enforcement and oversight for what employers are doing has exacerbated the problem and necessitated additional legislation.

Using the Weiler (1983) and LaLonde and Meltzer (1991) methodology, we find that in the 2000s workers were illegally fired in over 1-in-4 (26 percent) of union election campaigns, up sharply from about 16 percent in the late 1990s. In 2007, the most recent year for which data is available, 30 percent of union election campaigns had an illegal firing. Pro-union workers faced about a 2.3 percent chance of being illegally fired during the course of the campaign. Even after we adjust for the effect of the rise in majority sign-up organizing campaigns, pro-union workers in 2007 appeared to have a 1.8 percent chance of being illegally fired.

If we assume that employers target union organizers and activists, and that union organizers and activists make up about 10 percent of pro-union workers, our estimates suggest that about one-in-five union organizers or activists can expect to be fired as a result of their activities in a union election campaign. Even after we adjust for the increase in organizing campaigns not built around NLRB elections, our calculations suggest that more than one-in-seven union organizers and activists are illegally fired while trying to organize unions at their place of work.

Our findings provide significant support for the view that an important part of the decline in private-sector unionization rates (the unionization rate in the public sector has remained constant for three decades) is that aggressive—even illegal—employer behavior has undermined the ability of workers to create unions at their work places. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) penalties associated with illegal firings are small: back pay for illegally fired workers minus any earnings that workers had after they were fired. Current law has given employers a powerful anti-union strategy: fire one or more prominent pro-union employees—typically workers most involved in organizing the union—with the hope of disrupting the internal workings of the organizing campaign, while intimidating the rest of the potential bargaining unit in advance of the NLRB-supervised election.

This is the central problem in labor organizing. Not "union bosses," not the loss of the secret ballot (which isn't true). The problem with the workplace is that employers target union activists and fire them if they try to organize workers, intimidating everyone else who remains. This is illegal and wrong, and the Employee Free Choice Act would stop it. In addition to giving workers the decision over what type of election to have, it would put harsh sanctions and penalties on employers who engage in illegal anti-union activity. You can make all the arguments about union membership being closely tied to a strong middle class and economic expansion, but ultimately, the Employee Free Choice Act would right a very grave wrong.

...also worth watching is this silly conservative smear that the White House is trying to hide Biden's speech. They have pool reporters inside and will release a full transcript today. Traditionally the AFL-CIO meetings are completely closed to the public. Can a reporter get access to corporate board meetings where they discuss union busting?

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