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The Employee Free Choice Act No. 364

Adopted 2007

According to a February 2005 survey by Peter Hart, 57 million of America's non-union workers would form a union tomorrow if they were given the chance,. That means that 53 percent of America's labor force would like to participate in a union. The percentage of individuals who actually participate in a union are far fewer - a 2003 study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that only about 15% of the U.S. workforce receiving salaries or wages were union members. The main reason more Americans are not in unions is the toxic combination of employer interference and weak, poorly enforced laws that fail to protect workers' rights. The Wagner Act - whose 70th Anniversary we honor on July 5, 2005 - originally protected workers' freedom to form unions. Due to weakening amendments, numerous anti-worker court decisions, and highly politicized administration by various pro-employer National Labor Relations Boards, the law fails miserably to protect workers' basic rights today.

According to research by Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, when non-union private sector workers seek to form a union reveals that they have a 97% chance of facing employer opposition. Threats, intimidation, surveillance and discharge of union activists and supporters are common in these employer campaigns, often orchestrated by professional union-busting consultants. Under current law many of these employer tactics are perfectly legal. Others, such as discharge for union activity, are technically illegal, but the penalties are so minimal that the law is no deterrent. As a result, the number of workers awarded back pay because they were illegally discharged or discriminated against for union activity skyrocketed from fewer than 1,000 per year in the 1950s to 20,000 per year today, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

If strong-arm tactics aren't enough to suppress workers' union organizing campaigns, employers frequently turn to administrative and procedural delays that can stretch out the process for years.

If, despite all these obstacles workers successfully navigate the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process and vote to form a union, employers frequently refuse to bargain. As a result, during nearly half of all first contract negotiations, even after successfully completing the NLRB representation election process, workers are denied an initial collective bargaining agreement.

The consequences of failing to protect workers' rights are varied and severe for workers, their families, and virtually every important aspect of American life. Wages are suppressed, not only for union members but for all workers. According to a 2003 study by the Economic Policy Institute, unions raise wages almost as much for non-union workers in the aggregate as they do for their own members. Union workers also earn as much as 25 percent more than their non-union equivalents. Today workers seldom receive the benefit of increased productivity. The pervasive stifling of freedom to form unions explains much of the huge and widening gap between wages and productivity over the last thirty years.

Non-union workers are six times more likely than union members to lack health insurance coverage and only one fourth as likely to have guaranteed pension coverage. Suppressing the freedom to form unions worsens the nation's growing health care and retirement income security crises.

Economic inequality is exacerbated, and race and gender pay gaps are widened as a result of America's failure to protect workers' rights. Political participation is harmed as well; academic studies confirm that union workers are far more likely than similar non-union workers to register and to vote. Communities suffer as union jobs pay wages high enough to support a family, contributing to the tax base and injecting badly-needed purchasing power, are replaced by low-wage non-union jobs. Collective bargaining is the most effective anti-poverty program yet devised under capitalism; suppressing workers' access to collective bargaining impoverishes us all.

Society's safety net also suffers. Programs such as Social Security that owe their existence to support from the labor movement become vulnerable to attack in a society in which workers lack the freedom to form unions.

Perhaps worst of all, in the workplace -- where most non-retired adults spend half their waking hours -- workers are forced to submit to unilateral employer authority, without an opportunity for democratic participation or access to due process and workplace justice that unions and collective bargaining provide.

Above and beyond economic, political and social considerations, the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively is -- and should be -- a fundamental human right. Like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to be free from race or sex discrimination, the freedom of workers to associate and to form unions is an internationally recognized human right. It is a right that the United States is bound by under numerous international obligations. Americans should be ashamed that no less an authority than Human Rights Watch finds the United States out of compliance with international norms regarding protection of this basic human right.

Against this backdrop, Americans for Democratic Action salutes Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Peter King (R-NY) for re-introducing the Employee Free choice Act and commends the more than 200 members of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senators who have to date co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act. When adopted, this landmark legislation will provide important, badly needed and long overdue protection for the fundamental human right of America's workers to form unions and bargain collectively without employer interference.

The Employee Free Choice Act amends the National Labor Relations Act to so an employer must recognize a union when a majority sign cards of their intent to join a union instead of the current NLRB election process that has become a platform for employer coercion, a parody of democracy and a serious barrier to workers who are struggling to form a union. This bill provides penalties strong and timely enough to deter employer violations of workers' rights, instead of the current law's trivial, meaningless and badly delayed remedies. It provides time frames for first contract mediation and if that fails, binding arbitration, so that employer intransigence will no longer deny the benefits of collective bargaining to workers who have chosen to form a union.

Americans for Democratic Action considers that the struggle to enact the Employee Free Choice Act a fight for the nation's future that must be waged by all progressive Americans. The fight is too important for the labor movement to wage alone. Americans for Democratic Action is committed to use every means at its disposal to work unceasingly and tirelessly for Employee Free Choice Act.

The rights of American workers are a moral imperative. Therefore, ADA urges all religious communities to strongly support and lobby for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Demonstrated commitment to workers' rights, as reflected in part by support for the Employee Free Choice Act, shall be taken into account by Americans for Democratic Action in making decisions about support for or endorsement of candidates for political office.

The stakes are high. The need is urgent. The fight for workers' rights is on, and it must be won.

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No. 364

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