During these times of financial crisis and skyrocketing unemployment, AFSC is supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (HR1409/S560). EFCA is a proposed legislation that will give workers a fair and free choice as to how to decide to form a union: through majority sign-up (signing cards) or an election. It will also help employees secure their first contract in a reasonable period of time and toughen penalties against employers that violate U.S. labor laws. Moreover, it will help workers bargain with employers for higher wages, benefits and better working conditions.
The union advantage
It is important to remember that EFCA will help workers whether they have a union or not. A strong labor movement is essential to the well-being of all workers in the U.S. Historically, U.S. labor unions and faith organizations helped workers win Social Security, child labor laws, the minimum wage, occupational health and safety laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and many other fundamental advances of human rights.
Workers that are unionized have higher wages, better health care and pension coverage, providing the most benefits to the lowest paid workers. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, for the typical low-wage worker, unionization raises wages by almost 21%. Union workers in low-wage occupations are 25% more likely to have health insurance and pension plans.
It’s not easy to organize
Despite the benefits of unions, it’s not easy to organize. While the right to organize is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, employers routinely do all they can to prevent unionization. According to the National Labor Relations Board, in 2007 alone, 29,000 workers were illegally fired or otherwise discriminated against for trying to form a union, and many thousands more were illegally harassed and threatened by employers. As noted by the Economic Policy Institute, that amounts to "one worker every 18 minutes."
Barriers to organizing
- Threats and impunity: Employers use threatening tactics, many of them illegal, to discourage workers interested in unionization. Most employers require organizing workers to attend anti-union meetings and presentations. According to a Cornell University study, more than half of employers threaten to close their facilities or slash jobs if workers vote for a union and 25% of employers facing union organizing campaigns illegally fire at least one worker. Fines and penalties for illegally firing or intimidating workers are minimal and often take years to enforce.
- Employers avoid contract negotiations: Union busting doesn’t stop at recognition. Companies can draw out the contract negotiation process for one year, which then opens up the possibility of decertification. One third of employers never negotiate a contract when workers vote to form a union.
What EFCA can do
EFCA will increase penalties against employers who violate labor laws, and ensure that justice is swiftly served. Current penalties only require employers who break the law to pay workers back-pay, minus what they’ve earned in the meantime. Many see this paltry sum as the cost of doing business. EFCA would require employers pay victims three times their back-pay, as well as subject them to a fine of up to $20,000 for illegal acts.
EFCA and secret ballot elections
EFCA will not eliminate secret ballot elections. Under the bill, workers would choose the union formation process – elections or a majority sign-up. Under current law, the employer chooses the process.
- National Faith Groups EFCA Letter to Congress >
- Jobs with Justice EFCA resources >
- Interfaith Worker Justice EFCA resources and toolkit >
- EFCA: Solutions to a Flawed Labor Law, by the American Rights at Work (PDF) >