Employee Free Choice Act
The Employee Free Choice Act is proposed liberal legislation that is designed to strengthen labor unions. It represented the high-water mark of unions' efforts to create a favorable organizing climate by changing federal laws.
It was first introduced by Larry Miller (D-CA) in 2003 and again in 2005. In 2007, it was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 241-185. However, it never came to a vote in the Senate after a Republican filibuster. It stood a strong chance of passing in 2009 . However, it did not pass in the 111th Congress, and stood little chance in subsequent sessions where the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. The death of Edward Kennedy, one of its primary sponsors, played a key role in its defeat.
The main political goal of all unions in 2009 is to have Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act. It would facilitate efforts to unionize a workforce by counting signed cards, rather than by holding a secret ballot. The bill requires that if employers and workers cannot reach a contract within 120 days, a government arbitrator will intervene and set terms. Unions say the first provision is needed because employers now intimidate workers in the run-up to elections, and that the second provision is needed because employers sometimes go years without agreeing to a contract. Businesses argue that the first provision would expose workers to union intimidation and that the second one would allow the government to interfere in how they run their business.
Thomas Donahue, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, warned that if the bill passes, "no one is going to add a single job in the United States.... Will I put a job here where it'll get unionized in an illegal way? No, I'll put it somewhere else."
Conservatives are strongly opposed, and there is doubt whether the Democrats can muster 60 votes in the Senate to stop a Republican filibuster.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on the Employee Free Choice Act:
"I can't think of a more insidious bill in my time in the United States Senate. (It will) do away with secret ballot elections in union elections. Union bosses have a new scheme that makes it easier for them to harass and intimidate workers into paying costly union dues."
- Alec MacGillis, "The Employee Free Choice Bill Battle Is Joined," Washington Post Mar. 10. 2009 online