By Charles Wowkanech

On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board will conduct an election at the Trump Marina Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City that will determine whether the casino dealers there will be represented by the United Auto Workers.

What this election will not do is gauge these dealers' interest in forming a union.

Though those two statements may sound contradictory, they are not only accurate, but also a microcosm of the hurdles today's workers must clear in order to exercise their constitutionally protected right to organize.

Under our current system, workers must sign union-authorization cards declaring their intention to be represented by a union. These cards are then presented to the NLRB and a petition is filed requesting an election. Upon the acceptance of the petition, an election is scheduled, usually a month or two down the road.

It is in these intervening weeks between the time that the petition is accepted and the election is held that employers regularly gin up their antiunion strategies and work methodically to prevent workers from exercising their voice. With alarming regularity, workers involved in organizing campaigns are intimidated, threatened, or coerced into relinquishing their support for the union.

Even after a successful election, when workers have made their desire for representation clear a second time, employers often still refuse to recognize workers' rights and fail to bargain in good faith to reach a fair first contract. One-third of the time no contract is reached, and in countless other instances the relationship between employer and employees is irreparably damaged during a drawn-out campaign.

However, under the Employee Free Choice Act, which recently was passed with overwhelming and bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives, this all may change soon. Under this legislation, union representation would be recognized when a majority of workers signed an authorization card. Penalties for companies that attempted to intimidate workers to block their efforts to join a union also would be strengthened. Most important, the Employee Free Choice Act provides that in instances when workers and management cannot agree on a first contract within three months, a neutral third party will arbitrate between them to reach an agreement.

Several corporations - such as the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, United Water, and Cingular Wireless - have voluntarily recognized majority sign-ups by their workers, with positive results. We know this process works.

The facts surrounding the benefits of working under a collectively bargained contract are irrefutable. Such workers typically earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers, are 62 percent more likely to have employer-provided health care, and are four times more likely to have pensions.

You can be assured that Gary Loveman, CEO of Harrah's Entertainment Inc., who according to recently filed reports will receive compensation of nearly $100 million for helping to reach a $17.8 billion buyout of the company, is enjoying the benefits of his employment contract.

Critics of this legislation argue that taking away workers' right to vote by secret ballot for union representation is un-American, and we couldn't agree more. To that end, organized labor was proud to work with the authors of this groundbreaking legislation to insert a provision ensuring that if one-third of the workers want an election at their workplace they can simply ask the federal government to hold one. Majority sign-up simply gives them another option while also safeguarding their basic human right of union representation.

Casino dealers at properties across Atlantic City have had enough. They are fed up with management, which has chosen not to reward employee loyalty and years of service, but instead to repay workers by reducing their hours and taking away health benefits. They want change and are willing to fight for their dignity.

At Caesars and Trump Plaza, these workers shouted "Union, Yes" and, withstanding weeks of closed-door meetings and badgering, overwhelmingly backed up these shouts with their votes. Now they wait for management to join them at the negotiating table. Trump Marina and Bally's dealers also have made their voices heard and will soon be headed to the ballot box.

The Employee Free Choice Act presents employers an opportunity to return civility to their workplaces and to give respect back to their workers, while offering employees a fairer and less contentious way to benefit from their voice at work.

Charles Wowkanech is president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO.