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There is an excellent op-ed piece about the prospects for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the Wall Street Journal this morning by Ariella Bernstein, who describes herself as “a Democrat who has worked at both the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), two agencies that figure prominently in this legislation.”

The piece begins from the premise that organized labor has made passage of EFCA a high priority in 2009, hoping to make it happen during the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Bernstein writes that it would provide for “certification of a union as the bargaining representative if a majority of employees sign authorization cards; mandatory arbitration on the terms of a contract if the parties cannot reach agreement; and stronger penalties for unfair labor practices during a union organizing campaign or while the parties are negotiating a first contract.” A secret ballot by employees on whether they actually want to be represented by a union would no longer be required.

Bernstein’s big idea: while EFCA is being promoted by organized labor and is seen as a Democratic priority, it is not necessarily the best approach to resolving management-labor issues in the US.

Her argument is that union representation does not necessarily guarantee higher wages and benefits, especially in a recessionary economy with restricted access to credit, that mandatory arbitration actually absolves the two sides of having to compromise, which is “a critical component of labor-management relations,” and that too much is unknown about what the practical impact of EFCA might be. “I believe we need a better understanding of the problems before signing on to this bill as the solution,” she writes.
KC's View:
This piece is worth reading, and worth paying attention to…especially for Democrats who are going to be in government as of January 2009, and who should not go blindly into that good night.

Passage of EFCA right now would be a disaster on a variety of levels. Business has enough problems at the moment, and to saddle it with new restrictions and labor rules would be ill timed at best. This isn’t to defend the practice of firing employees who are union organizers or sympathizers…but there has to be a better way than EFCA. And eliminating the secret ballot is just un-American.

(My guess, by the way, is that the Obama administration may resist labor’s entreaties. EFCA is polarizing, and the new president seems to want to rule from the center and find common ground. I hope I’m right.)

Commercials promoting EFCA and asking citizens to call their Congressmen in support of it are all over cable television, which means that the industry needs to rise to explain – calmly and rationally – why it is not a timely idea. But maybe it also means that the business community has to embrace changes that would address some of labor’s concerns, thereby offering a real solution and alternative, not just being negative about labor.