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VOICES: The Employee Free Choice Act and workers' rights

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By Charlie Key, Georgia Online News Service

Finally the opponents of workers having a real "choice" to unionize are letting up on the lie they been trying to sell about unions trying to take away a worker's right to vote. People are beginning to understand that over- paid corporate CEOs and their over paid consultants with their alligator briefcases and eel skin boots effectively stole workers' right to vote for union representation 30 years ago. They also understand that the CEOs and their cronies can't possibly have the best interest of working families at heart. Thomas Donahue, president and CEO of the National Chamber of Commerce, touched lightly on that lie in his opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution but he quickly moved on to the new lie that "government is going to take over contract negotiations between union and management."

There are several nuances to this lie. It tries to once again say that the legislation will take away workers' "right" to vote by saying the government, "would then write and hand down the union contract." It would be real easy to preserve employees' rights to vote on a contract; just negotiate one in good faith and the employees would vote. But overpaid CEOs and their overpaid consultants all too often deny employees the opportunity to ever vote on a contract. Nothing in the short (9 pages of double spaced type on pages with wide margins) says that the arbitrator or arbitration panel would be a "federal authority".

The law says, "...an arbitration board established in accordance with such regulation as may be prescribed by the (Federal Mediation) Service." The Service may very well prescribe a panel of arbitrators comprised of some of the thousands of labor arbitrators practicing today and by the time honored method of selecting such arbitrators. A process of striking from a larger panel until only the needed number remains. Or the Service may establish panels comprised of private experts in various fields and industries so the panel would know what wages and fringes and contract language that might be appropriate for the industry.

I seriously doubt that there will be some ominous federal panel in D.C. that is completely devoid of real world understanding "writing and handing down" contracts with no input from labor or management.

Arbitration is not the union's preferred method for settling contracts but it is preferred over no contract. After decades of studying arbitrators decisions I have seldom seen large numbers of split-the-baby decisions. I am happy to see so many corporate CEOs all of a sudden interested in democracy in the workplace, particularly since so many of them have been fighting tooth and nail to deny workers the opportunity to vote on union representation and then, if they were somehow able to actually get an election fight, to make sure they never get the opportunity to vote on a contract.

During attempts by employees to form a union the boss all of a sudden becomes interested in their employees financing; worrying that the employee might "waste" their money on union dues. And then I have seen the boss' false concern for employees' paychecks fade faster than a cheap paint job after the company and its consultants manage to beat an organizing effort. This bunch that is pounding their chest today for workplace democracy will fade even faster if the Employee Free Choice Act is passed or defeated. If it is passed the alligator skin boys will be put on overtime trying to find ways to deny employees the opportunity for union representation by card check or votes. I can barely wait to see the next contortion of the act by folks that will stop at nothing to stop workers from forming a union.

Just to set the record straight, for over 70 years unions in the workplace have been formed by either secret ballot elections or by majority sign up. The Employee Free Choice Act does not change that. Unions currently get contracts through negotiation, mediation and or arbitration. The Employee Free Choice Act does not change that except that new workplace unions will get a contract. Today in over 25% of organizing campaigns employers violate workers rights under the National Labor Relations Act with impunity. The Employee Free Choice Act does change that. And it is those two things that the Chamber of Commerce, greedy corporate executives and their front groups really hate about the Employee Free Choice Act.

One last thought: The battle for Employee Free Choice Act is not just a union thing. The passage of the act will benefit almost all employees because employees will have a real choice and real chance to unionize so employers that want to avoid the union will pay and treat their workers better.

Charlie Key is the Secretary Treasurer of the Georgia AFL-CIO.

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