A new EPI report analyzes the recent wave of preemption laws passed by state legislatures to undercut local labor standards. EPI associate labor counsel Marni von Wilpert shows that preemption activity has increased dramatically since 2010, as Republican-controlled state legislatures have repeatedly struck down local government efforts to improve the working conditions of their residents. Just last week the minimum wage in St. Louis was lowered from $10 per hour back down to $7.70 per hour because of a preemption law passed in Missouri. Von Wilpert provides an overview of five areas affected by preemption—minimum wage, paid leave, fair work scheduling, prevailing wage, and project labor agreements—and details the impact of preemption throughout the United States. Read the Full Report.
The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act would crack down on employers who steal wages from their workers — Employers steal more than $15 billion from workers every year, particularly from workers in low-wage industries
On Tuesday, August 1, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Al Franken (D-MN), along with Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CN) and Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act, to crack down on employers who unfairly withhold wages from their employees. This bill would give workers the right to receive full compensation for all of the work they perform, as well as the right to receive regular pay stubs and final paychecks in a timely manner. It would also provide workers with improved tools to recover their stolen wages in court and make assistance available to build community partnerships that enhance the enforcement of and improve compliance with wage and hour laws.
“It is simply wrong that employers are able to take advantage of their workers and cheat them out of their hard-earned pay, and all too often women, immigrants and workers of color are those who have to pay the price,” said Senator Murray. “While President Trump continues to break campaign promises and roll back worker protections, I’m going to keep fighting so every worker is treated fairly and paid what they’ve earned. I’m proud to introduce this bill as another step towards building an economy that works for all, not just those at the top.”
“The biggest economic challenge facing our country is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Across the country, some workers are putting in long hours and working for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their hard-earned wages. Wage theft is inexcusable and unconscionable, and our federal laws should hold employers who violate their employee’s right accountable,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation that will strengthen current federal law and empower employees to recover their lost wages. Whether it is compensation for a day’s work, or overtime, employees should be paid what they earn. This legislation not only protects workers, but it will help our economy grow.”
“Wage theft is just one of the reasons why Ohioans are working hard but have too little to show for it,” said Senator Brown. “We need to crack down on employers who don’t pay workers their full wages to restore the value of work and strengthen our economy.”
In May, the Economic Policy Institute published a new report finding that employers steal more than an estimated $15 billion from workers each year, with workers in low-wage industries at the greatest risk. A National Employment Law Project 2008 survey of 4,387 low-wage workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago found that low-wage workers experienced a range of wage and hour violations, with women, immigrants and minorities being disproportionately affected. Common examples of wage theft include forcing workers to work off the clock, refusing to pay the minimum wage, denying overtime pay to workers even after they work more than 40 hours a week, stealing workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassifying workers to avoid paying fair wages.
“Americans are spending more hours working, but all too often, because of wage theft, they don’t get the pay they’ve earned—and as a result working families suffer,” said Senator Franken. “While a majority of employers are playing by the rules, wage theft is a real problem. Our bill will combat this crooked practice by giving each worker the tools to make sure that employers aren’t shortchanging workers’ hours or overtime pay. Every worker in Minnesota and across our country should be paid for every hour they work and no less.”
“When workers are not taking home the entirety of the pay they’ve earned because of wage theft, families suffer,” said Congressman Scott.“Unfortunately, wage theft is a persistent problem for low wage workers. A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute sampling the 10 most populous states found that 2.4 million workers lost $8 billion annually to minimum wage violations. The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act will give hardworking Americans the tools they need to fight back against unscrupulous employers and protect their hard-earned paychecks. In addition to raising the federal minimum wage and strengthening collective bargaining, combating wage theft is a critical part in boosting the wages of low wage working people and remedying income inequality.”
In addition to Senators Murray, Brown and Franken, other original cosponsors in the Senate include Durbin (D-IL), Markey (D-MA), Merkley (D-OR), Murphy (D-CT), Warren (D-MA), Blumenthal (D-CT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harris (D-CA), Baldwin (D-WI), Leahy (D-VT), Booker (D-NJ), Sanders (I-VT), Hirono (D-HI), Van Hollen (D-MD), Casey (D-PA), Wyden (D-OR), and Stabenow (D-MI).
In addition to Representatives DeLauro and Scott, other original cosponsors in the House of Representatives include Boyle (D-PA), Clark, (D-MA), Clarke (D-NY), Conyers (D-MI), DeSaulnier (D-CA), Ellison (D-MN), Green (D-TX), Langevin (D-RI), Lewis (D-GA), Matsui (D-CA), McCollum (D-MN), Nadler (D-NY), Holmes Norton (D-DC), Pascrell (D-NJ), Pocan (D-WI), Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Schakowsky (D-IL), Serrano (D-NY), Slaughter (D-NY), and Velazquez (D-NY).
The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act
Today, across the country, many people are putting in long hours on the job and working hard for an honest day’s pay, only to have their employers cheat them out of their wages. While the vast majority of employers do the right thing and treat workers fairly, too many others force their workers to work off the clock, refuse to pay workers the minimum wage, deny workers overtime pay even after they work more than 40 hours a week, steal workers’ tips, or knowingly misclassify workers to avoid paying fair wages.
The Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Act is comprehensive legislation to combat wage theft in America. This bill will strengthen fundamental protections to allow workers to get the money they have earned through hard work and it will crack down on the corporations that subject workers to these abuses. Taking these steps will help ensure our country can work for all Americans, not just the wealthiest few, so our economy grows from the middle out, not the top down.
The bill would achieve the following:
- Require employers to pay all wages owed to an employee. Currently, workers can only recover wages at the minimum wage or, for overtime hours, 1.5 times their regular wage; for example, an employee may be hired at $9.00 per hour, but would only have the right to recover $7.25 of every $9.00 she was owed. This bill would help workers recoup the full compensation that employers have taken from them.
- Require employers to provide initial disclosures of the terms of their employment and regular pay stubs to all employees and create a civil fine for noncompliance of $50 for the first violation and $100 for each subsequent violation.
- Require employers to pay final paychecks within 14 days of separation or by the payday for the pay period, whichever is earlier; the employer will owe the employee in question her daily wage for each day beyond this period that the paycheck goes unpaid, for a maximum of 30 days.
- Create a civil penalty of $2,000 when employers violate minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and—for the first time—the protection guaranteeing workers their full compensation. The Act would also increase the existing civil penalty for willful or repeat violations to $10,000. Currently, the Department of Labor (DOL) does not have the authority to assess civil penalties for violations of the FLSA’s minimum wage or overtime requirements unless the employer is guilty of repeat or willful violations; even then, the penalty is set at just $1,100 per violation.
- Increase the damages that employees who are victims of wage theft are entitled to. The amount currently provided for by the FLSA is twice the owed wages. This bill would raise that amount to triple the owed wages amount, plus interest assessed on the original owed wages.
- Strengthen protections for employees who are illegally fired by their employer as retaliation for filing a complaint concerning wage theft or cooperating with a DOL investigation. This bill would increase the damages to which workers are entitled to quadruple the owed wages amount, plus interest assessed on the original owed wages.
- Strengthen the FLSA’s recordkeeping provision by creating a civil penalty of $1,000 for an employer’s first violation of the provision and $5,000 for each subsequent violation. Additionally, the legislation would give employees a right to inspect their employer’s records by requesting a copy of those records. Finally, if an employer violates the recordkeeping provision, the bill would allow an employee’s reasonable evidence regarding their hours worked to be used to create a rebuttable presumption that the employer engaged in wage theft, and to establish the exact amount of that wage theft. Under this bill, the employer would be allowed to rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence.
- Increase the time that employees have to bring a claim for owed wages from two years to four years (and from three years to five years for willful violations) from the date of the violation and temporarily suspend this time limit during any DOL investigation.
- Make it easier for employees to take collective action to recover their stolen wages. The bill would remove the current requirement that employees affirmatively “opt-in” to engage in a collective action under the FLSA. This will enable employees to pursue collective action cases in a manner similar to most class action cases, in which members of the “class” must affirmatively “opt-out” of the case in order to not be involved.
- Direct DOL to refer to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution those employers who comprehensively engage in wage theft by willfully stealing employees’ wages, falsifying records to hide the truth, and retaliating against employees when they try to speak up for themselves or cooperate with a DOL investigation.
- Create a grant program at DOL to assist DOL in its education, trainings, and enforcement of this Act through partnerships with organizations on the ground that fight wage theft.
Our newly inaugurated president has vowed to repeal 75 percent of all federal regulations, you know those regulations that protect our air, water, food we eat, drugs we take, etc. As a first step, he release an Executive Edict mandating that federal agencies shall repeal two regulations for each new rule they issue. That however, was a step too far for a number of organizations.
Public Citizen, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), have now filed a lawsuit arguing that the president has exceeded his authority under the US Constitution. They also argue that the president’s edict considers only costs and blocks consideration of benefits associated with respect to important health, safety and environmental protections.
Here’s what you need to know about the case:
- In a unilateral directive issued in just his second week in office, Trump’s edict essentially ordered the government to stop issuing new health and safety, financial, environmental, workplace and other vital public protections.
- Trump’s edict will allow Big Business to exploit workers, Wall Street to rip off consumers, Dirty Energy companies to pollute, Big Pharma to continue price gouging, auto makers to sell dangerous cars, and on and on.
- It will be nearly impossible for the government to carry out its duties under popular and effective laws like the Clean Air Act, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to name a few.
- Even after the Wall Street crash, the BP oil disaster and other failures that resulted from letting corporations “regulate” themselves, the American people will be forced to suffer still MORE corporate recklessness and greed.
- The edict requires that for every new regulation adopted, two must be eliminated — a nonsensical standard with absolutely no basis in law.
- Especially insidious in his edict is that regulations must be evaluated only by inflating estimates of their cost to businesses while completely ignoring their substantially greater — and real — benefits to society.
- This edict will mean more contaminated food, an accelerated rush to climate catastrophe, more dangerous cars and trucks, more workplace injuries and deaths, slashed consumer rights, more oil spills, more human misery. All unnecessary. All preventable.
The lawsuit takes direct aim at putting corporate profits before people’s lives and the public good.
“Workers shouldn’t be required to trade off one set of job, health and safety protections in order to get protection from another equally dangerous condition. Technically, this order means that the asbestos workplace standard, for example, could be discarded in order to adopt safeguards for nurses from infectious diseases in their workplaces” — CWA president, Chris Shelton
“No one thinking sensibly about how to set rules for health, safety, the environment, and the economy would ever adopt the Trump executive order approach—unless their only goal was to confer enormous benefits on big business. By irrationally directing agencies to consider costs but not benefits of new rules, it would fundamentally change our government’s role from one of protecting the public to protecting corporate profits.” — Public Citizen president Robert Weissman
“Trump’s order would deny Americans the basic protections they rightly expect. New efforts to stop pollution don’t automatically make old ones unnecessary. When you make policy by tweet, it yields irrational rules. This order imposes a false choice between clean air, clean water, safe food, and other environmental safeguards.” — NRDC president Rhea Suh
On November 4th Democrats lost big when they ran a candidate but won big when they ran an issue.
In 42 states about 150 initiatives were on the ballot. The vast majority did not address issues dividing the two parties (e.g. raising the mandatory retirement age for judges, salary increases for state legislators, bond issues supporting a range of projects). But scores of initiatives did involve hot button issues. And on these American voters proved astonishingly liberal.
Voters approved every initiative to legalize or significantly reduce the penalties for marijuana possession (Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington, Washington, D.C.) It is true that a Florida measure to legalize medical marijuana lost but 57 percent voted in favor (60 percent was required).
Voters approved every initiative to raise the minimum wage (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota). Voters in San Francisco and Oakland approved initiatives to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. The good citizens of Oakland and Massachusetts overwhelmingly approved more generous paid sick leave.
Both Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected measures that would have given the fertilized egg personhood under their criminal codes.
Washington state voters approved background checks for all gun sales and transfers, including private transactions.
By a wide margin Missourians rejected a constitutional amendment to require teachers to be evaluated based on test results and fired or demoted virtually at will.
By a 59-41 margin North Dakotans voted to keep their unique statute outlawing absentee owned pharmacies despite Walmart outspending independent pharmacist supporters at least ten to one.
The vote in Colorado offers a good example of the disparity between how Americans vote on candidates and how we vote on issues. A few years ago the Colorado legislature stripped cities and counties of the right to build their own telecommunications networks but it allowed them to reclaim that authority if they put it to a vote of their citizens. On Tuesday 8 cities and counties did just that. Residents in every community voted by a very wide margin to permit government owned networks even while they were voting by an equally wide margin for Republican candidates who vigorously oppose government ownership of anything.
Republicans did gain a number of important victories. Most of these dealt with taxes. For example, Georgia voters by a wide margin supported a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state legislature from raising the maximum state income tax rate. Massachusetts’ voters narrowly voted to overturn a law indexing the state gasoline tax to the consumer price increase.
What did Tuesday tell us? When given the choice between a Republican and a Democrat candidate the majority of voters chose the Republican. When given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat position on an issue they chose the Democrat. I’ll leave it up to others to debate the reasons behind this apparent contradiction. My own opinion is that ballot initiatives more accurately take the ideological pulse of the people because debates over issues must focus on issues, not personality, temperament or looks. Those on both sides of the issue can exaggerate, distort and just plain lie but they must do so in reference to the question on the ballot. No ballot initiative ever lost because one of its main backers attended a strip club 16 years earlier.
I am buoyed by the empirical evidence: Americans even in deeply red regions are liberal on many key issues. And I am saddened that these same voters have voted to enhance the power of a party at odds with the values these voters have expressed. The challenge, and in an age where billions of dollars in negative sound-bites define a candidate it is a daunting one, is how to make the next election on issues, not personalities.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
|David Morris is Vice President and director of the New Rules Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. focusing on local economic and social development.|
Earlier today, I signed an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers.
It’s the right thing to do. But what’s more, companies have found that when their employees earn more, they’re more motivated, they work harder, and they stick around longer. You should expect the same of your federal government.
The bottom line is this: We are a nation that believes in rewarding honest work with honest wages. And America deserves a raise.
The order I signed today will help folks across the country. But it’s not enough.
Right now, there’s a bill in Congress that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for all Americans. It would lift wages for more than 28 million current workers, and would move millions of Americans out of poverty. That means businesses would have customers with more money to spend.
Raising the minimum wage would grow the economy for everyone.
You don’t need to believe me: Believe the 600 economists — including seven Nobel Prize winners — who wrote both houses of Congress last month to remind them that the bill before them will have little or no negative effect on jobs.
When I stood before both chambers of Congress and said that I intended for 2014 to be a year of action, that wasn’t just a nice line in a speech. It was an acknowledgment that we’ve got to restore opportunity for everyone in America — the idea that no matter who you are, or how you started out, you can get ahead here if you’re responsible and willing to work for it. That’s what this “year of action” is all about.
And since that speech, I have taken actions on my own to make it easier for folks to save for retirement, help working Americans get the skills that good jobs demand, and assist millions of Americans who have been looking for work for several months. I’ve announced a major new commitment toward connecting our schools to 21st-century technology.
That action continues today, and in the months to come.
President Barack Obama
Travis Waldron | News Report: Low capital gains rates have helped the wealthy pay lower and lower tax rates even as their incomes have skyrocketed. And while capital gains income makes up almost half of the incomes of the wealthiest Americans, it accounts for 2.2 percent or less for earners under $200,000. Half of all capital gains income goes to just to the richest 0.1 percent of Americans. The capital gains rate has been steadily eroded since President Ronald Reagan taxed such income equal to wages in the 1980s, and the result has been rising income inequality.
Warren Buffett | Op-Ed:“We need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy.
Oded Na’aman | Op-Ed: There’s one area close to Israel and another along the Israeli-Egyptian border… Israel’s sea border is twelve miles out, and Gaza’s is only three. They’ve only got those three miles, and that’s because of one reason, which is that Israel wants its gas, and there’s an offshore drilling rig something like three and a half miles out facing the Gaza Strip, which should be Palestinian, except that it’s ours… the Navy Special Forces unit provides security for the rig.
Susan Ferriss | News Report: Backed by the California District Attorneys Association, the new pot law — passed by state lawmakers — did away with prior requirements that pot offenders be referred to treatment and now allows them to pay a $100 fine akin to that for jaywalking. When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law, he noted that simple pot possession in California was already “an infraction in everything but name.”
Paul Buchheit , Op-Ed: Corporate executives and financial employees make up just one-half of 1% of the workforce, but with nearly a trillion dollars of annual income (11.3% of $8.12 trillion), they make more than ALL 15 million unionized workers in the United States, and almost as much as ALL 21 million government workers. Much of their income derives from minimally-taxed capital gains. Meanwhile, the great majority of their private company employees toil as food servers, clerks, medical workers, and domestic help at below-average pay.
Jeff Nall, Toward Freedom | News Analysis: Today, non-tenured, part-time instructors (adjuncts) comprise almost 70-percent of college and university faculties. And these teachers are paid very little. Adjuncts teaching at the community college and state college level in a state like Florida, for instance, make under $2,000 per class. This means that teaching eight classes a year would yield $16,000 annually for the most highly paid community or state college adjunct. Typically adjuncts have no benefits to speak of. This translates into a growing number of college professors who face severe economic hardship.
Dan Morrell | Slate: Automakers are experimenting with lightweight bodies and new engines to meet ambitious fuel efficiency standards. In July 2011, the Obama administration reached an agreement with 13 major automakers—Ford included—along with the UAW and the EPA to dramatically increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards on all cars and light trucks sold in the United States: By 2025, every carmaker’s fleet would have to average 54.5 miles per gallon. It represented a near-doubling of the current standard of 29 miles per gallon—roughly the highway fuel efficiency of a Ford Taurus.
— by Pat Garofalo, Think Progress / News Analysis, 6 July 2012
Jobless Americans are facing a cliff when it comes to their unemployment benefits. As a new report from the National Employment Law Project notes, due to Congress phasing out federal unemployment benefits that were implemented as a response to the Great Recession, U.S. workers who lose their jobs from the first week of July forward will only be eligible to receive 27 weeks of benefits at the state level, not the extended benefits that have been available for the last several years:
The [Emergency Unemployment Compensation] program is scheduled to expire at the end of December 2012. Workers who lose their jobs during the first week of July and thereafter will thus face having no federal benefits when they exhaust state UI benefits. Unlike prior authorizations of the EUC program, which provided for a graduated phase-out of eligibility for workers receiving benefits on the scheduled expiration date, workers receiving EUC at the end of the year face a “hard” cut-off: their benefits will stop. This means that unless Congress reauthorizes the EUC program by the end of December, no unemployed worker will receive any federal unemployment benefits for the weeks after December 29, 2012.
Though the labor market is improving, there are still nearly four unemployed workers for every available opening, and the average duration of unemployment is currently 40 weeks — longer than the 26 weeks of benefits most states provide. Since the recession, the federal government has picked up the tab for up to 99 weeks of unemployment through the EUC program.
If Congress allows the EUC program to expire at the end of the year, more than two-thirds of the unemployed will not be receiving any benefits at all. Even with the federal benefits program, less than half of the unemployed currently receive benefits.
ABOUT PAT GAROFALO
Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.
— This material [article] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.
I got a scare-letter from Heller in my email this morning about the Employee Free Choice Act and how it would cause the loss of 600,000 jobs. Here’s a copy of the letter to Pelosi he provided in the letter:
Dear Speaker Pelosi:
I am writing you on a serious issue of great importance to the citizens of Nevada. During these tough economic times, job retention and creation must be the top priority for Congress. Unfortunately, I was very displeased to see that the House of Representatives is considering taking action on the Employee Free Choice Act which restricts the rights of employees and threatens the ability of businesses to create and retain jobs in the United States.
The Employee Free Choice Act is one of the worst power seizures by special interests and labor lobbyists that I have seen during my time in public service. This legislation at its core will threaten American jobs and harm small and large businesses alike that are already struggling to make ends meet.
In fact, a recent economic study found that if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, 600,000 jobs could be lost by the end of 2010. Our country and Nevada cannot afford this. Any further job losses created by the Employee Free Choice Act would be devastating to Nevada workers who in some communities are facing unemployment rates as high as 15.1%.
Recently, I and a coalition of former Secretaries of State wrote to President Obama requesting that he defend the integrity of voting rights in our states and ensure our constituents had the right to make unionization decisions in free, fair, and secret election. I am disappointed to say that the President has yet to respond to our letter. President Obama has said many times that more bipartisanship is needed in Washington D.C. Therefore, I request a meeting with you to discuss this important issue in person so that I can express the grave concerns the citizens of Nevada have expressed to me. Thank you for your prompt attention to my concerns and please feel free to contact me for further information. I look forward to working with you to facilitate this meeting request.
Well … it appears he’s been drinking too much of the latest batch of Republican KoolAid. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a piece explaining EFCA that I found on the OPED News:
Employee Free Choice Act Promotes Democracy
By Joel Wendland
The Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would remove harsh barriers to joining labor unions, was introduced in Congress, Tuesday March 10th. Supporters of the bill say there are two simple but vital reasons for passing the bill into law: improve democratic rights and boost the economy. PoliticalAffairs.net begins here a regular series of articles on the Employee Free Choice Act to help readers better understand its provisions and its benefits.
Democracy in the workplace
When Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott was asked recently about Employee Free Choice he responded, “We like driving the car and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.”
Scott shares this sentiment with many corporate CEOs and well-rewarded executives. It is driving a mammoth $200 million campaign funded by his company and other corporate front groups to prevent reforms enshrined in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that will remove barriers to workers organizing unions.
Corporate lobbyists have invaded Washington, doling out wads of cash and putting pressure on Congress to block EFCA.
They are fighting so hard on this because EFCA would reform labor law in three ways: 1) shift choice of how unions are certified from employers to workers; 2) impose real penalties on employers who violate labor laws by harassing or firing pro-union workers; 3) eliminate expensive taxpayer-funded red tape that slows the process of unionization.
“Secret ballot” myth
Let’s look closely at each reform. Many in the right-wing media have misleadingly claimed and in many cases outright lied about the first provision. From CNN’s Lou Dobbs to Fox News’ Glenn Beck, commentators have insisted that EFCA would eliminate the secret ballot process in certifying a union, a process that is a “sacred institution” some have sanctimoniously added.
This point has caught on. Many congressional Republicans have picked it up and used it as their excuse in opposing EFCA.
That argument is flat out wrong. Labor law currently allows two methods of certifying unions: majority sign-up (also known as card check) and the secret ballot. The key difference is that now employers, not workers get to choose which method is adopted. This must be what Wal-Mart CEO Scott means by who gets to “drive the car.”
EFCA would give the choice of how to certify their union to workers – after all it is their organization, not the employer’s. Media pundits and members of Congress who are confused on this issue can read the actual bill by clicking here.
Wal-Mart boss Lee Scott would likely get angry if someone else got to determine how he joined any organization. So why does he and other CEOs have so much power to determine which organizations workers are members of?
Choice about how and which organizations workers join is a fundamental right in a democratic society.
State of war
The second reform in EFCA would impose real penalties on employers who violate the law. Right now, something like 30 percent of workers who advocate for a union in their workplace are fired – illegally. More than 90 percent of workers are forced to attend mandatory “captive audience” meetings created by anti-union consultants and lawyers to discourage unionization and to level threats about what will happen if workers vote to join a union.
According to a former anti-union consultant, employers view the unionization process as a “state of war” in which any tactic or maneuver – illegal or not – is justified.
According to one lawyer familiar with labor law and the actual practice of unionization interviewed for this story, employers never face real penalties for their actions. At most the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that oversees union elections, might force the employer to post a statement alerting workers about their rights. Financial penalties are even more rare and can be delayed for many years and reduced in size that they are usually meaningless.
This fact prompted Human Rights Watch (HRW) to report in January that “[s]anctions for illegal conduct are too feeble to adequately discourage employer law breaking” or “sufficiently disuasive to deter violations.” HRW added that the “Employee Free Choice Act … would remedy many of these deficiencies and create a more level playing field for US workers.”
Avoiding punishment for violating federal law might be up Wal-Mart CEO Scott’s alley, but just imagine what would happen to any ordinary person who violated federal laws designed to protect an internationally recognized as a fundamental human right.
Equally enforcing the law and punishing those who violate it is an essential ingredient of any democratic society.
Dragging their feet
Current federal law allows employers to manipulate and delay the NLRB election and arbitration processes. After employers order workers to use a ballot process to certify the union, they typically have more than six weeks before the election takes place. During this time period, workers are treated to threats about closing the plant, some workers are fired, and the workers are almost always ordered to attend anti-union meetings.
In those tense weeks leading up to the election, employers use every means – illegal or not – to influence the outcome of the election. So much for the sanctity of the “secret ballot.”
Even if workers weather this perfect storm of threats and harassment, the certification election is only the first step. The next step opens the negotiations for the first contract.
Current federal law requires that a first contract be inked within a year or the union must be re-certified. There are no enforced measures that make employers bargain in good faith, so they often delay the process, hoping that workers, still under pressure to oppose the union, will simply give up before a first contract is signed.
Labor law does provide for both sides in the negotiations to file grievances with the NLRB if they suspect the other side has violated the law. But as one can guess, these are more often enforced against workers. Employers are rarely ordered to actually make restitution for breaking the law.
Only public pressure can force employers to accept an outside mediator who can bring the two sides together and convince them to accept a compromise contract. Take the case of Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel, North Carolina, for example. Only after 12 years of struggle against the company’s recriminations against the workers, firings and harassment, along with a nationwide campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers union that included a boycott, did Smithfield Foods finally agree to recognize the union that the workers had designated as their bargaining unit.
EFCA would reform labor law in this area, again by creating real penalties for breaking the law, but also by setting a shorter time limit for first-contract negotiations before an appointed mediator can be brought in to settle the contract differences.
This reform is crucial for two reasons: it limits how much employers can game the system and draw out a process at taxpayer expense that allows them to avoid recognizing the union the workers have voted for; it also ensures that workers have their issues addressed in a contract with their employer.
Wal-Mart boss Scott hates the idea of being contractually obligated to workers. He wants to “drive the car.” The plain fact is, however, that he would NEVER work as Wal-Mart CEO without a contract that guaranteed his mammoth salary, fat stock options and retirement and health benefits. In fact, he – and any top executive – would be insulted if asked to work without one.
Members of Congress also have a work contract of two or six years that pays around $175,000 annually and provides excellent health care coverage and pensions.
Why can’t ordinary working men and women have a contract in their workplace as a matter of course? Being able to bargain effectively for contractually guaranteed wages, benefits and working conditions improves democracy in our country and in its workplaces.
Next time, we’ll look at economic benefits of unionization.
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- ‘Fair And Balanced’ Fox News Wages Assault On Unions, Distorts Facts Of Employee Free Choice Act (thinkprogress.org)
- “Secret Ballot”? Or Opportunity for Intimidation? (dailykos.com)
- Why the Employee Free Choice Act Is So Important: The Power of Organization (dailykos.com)
- De-Mystifying The Employee Free Choice Act (mydd.com)