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Manufacturing

Free choice-or no voice?

By Andy Barks

March 2009 - With manufacturing sectors struggling nationwide, the top priorities in every state include creating and securing jobs. Already hamstrung by a tenuous economy and constantly fluctuating commodity prices, the members of the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C., are sure to oppose any legislation that might threaten employment.

The Employee Free Choice Act falls squarely into that category. Known more simply as the "card check" bill, the EFCA has gotten the attention of manufacturers who fear it might hinder their ability to remain globally competitive and create more jobs.

Unionized power
Originally, the EFCA's function was as an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act, aiming to ease the process by which employees could join labor organizations. But the card-check provision--which stipulates that a union can exclusively represent its employees via secret ballot election if more than 30 percent of those employees sign statements requesting such representation--is what's drawn the ire of business owners.

"This is the most unifying issue for business right now," said NAM president John Engler in a press release. "These business leaders have come to Washington to make it clear they oppose proposals that will further hinder manufacturers' economic competitiveness and our ability to create jobs."

The common refrain among those who oppose EFCA is that it will promote coercion and that its language contradicts that of the original labor relations act. In other words, the sentiment is that it would give too much power to the unions and taint the voting process.

"By eliminating secret ballot voting and changing the role of government arbitrators from interpreting contracts to actually writing the terms and conditions of contracts, the Employee Free Choice Act undermines the fundamental tenets from which this law was developed," said Engler.

Widespread uncertainty
Engler went on to say that the EFCA's naysayers aren't limited to the manufacturing sector--or to corporate America. The issue, he implied, isn't necessarily union-based, but rather about securing the rights owed to individual employees and voters.

"This is not just a matter of business opposition," said Engler. "A poll by McLaughlin & Associatesshowed that 74 percent of voters oppose EFCA and that even a majority of union households oppose it. A recent poll by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace shows that 73 percent of Obama voters oppose EFCA and that more than 80 percent of Obama voters believe secret ballot elections are the best way to protect the individual rights of workers."

Left unmentioned was the fact that President Obama is one of the original co-sponsors of the bill and that it was a recurring topic during his campaign speeches last summer and fall. Instead, the issue of focus for businesses and manufacturers seems to be the privacy of workers rather than the unspoken fear: that the bill would grant labor organizations unprecedented pull. FFJ

Sources

  • National Association of Manufacturers
    Washington, D.C.
    phone: 202/637-3000
    fax: 202/637-3182
    www.nam.org
    e-mail: manufacturing@nam.org

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