DON'T ENCOURAGE your senators to support the Employee Free Choice Act.
After all, employee free choice and the prospect of economic equality, health-care coverage for families and pensions are, well, overrated. Just think of the consequences of working people actually having a free choice to pursue a better life for themselves and their families.
As things stand, employees in a non-union work place have little control over wages, working conditions and benefits. Indeed, union workers earn 30 per cent more than non-union colleagues, are 62 per cent more likely to have employer-provided health-care coverage and four times more likely to have pensions.
Imagine if all workers had the choice to pursue these benefits. What an inconvenient reality it would be for employers, particularly those in large corporations.
The current distribution of corporate wealth works well, at least for top execs and CEOs. Although they have contracts that provide high pay, golden parachutes, stock options, and retirement plans, it shouldn't be assumed, goes the corporate line, that the workers who actually generate the profits that pay for those wages and benefits should have a right to negotiate equivalent benefits for themselves.
The millions of workers who say they would join a union if given the opportunity, that reasoning goes, must be enlightened as to the economic reality of corporate America, circa 2007.
But the Employee Free Choice Act would effectively do away with a lot of well-strategized gamesmanship in the workplace.
It would seriously undermine employer browbeating of employees and otherwise force employers whose employees have opted to be represented by a union to actually negotiate a contract.
Now, employees who seek to unionize are routinely harassed, intimidated, coerced and even fired for their "radical" conduct.
Employers threaten plant closings. Corporate bosses round up employees for endless mandatory anti-union lectures where the employees are not invited to join the conversation. And the very supervisors who make decisions on employees' futures in the workplace are corralled to personally deliver the intimidating and coercive message that unions are just, well, unnecessary in their workplace.
The employer's current ability to poison the workplace before a "secret" election would come to a halt. Moreover, where employees choose to be represented by a union, employers would actually be required to enter into a first contract.
If the Employee Free Choice Act were to become law, the workplace as workers know it today might well be changed for good.
In a workplace where employees have a free choice, all working people would have the freedom to make their own choice about whether to form a union and to bargain for better wages and benefits. The workplace would actually become democratic. Employees could make this choice if a majority sign cards authorizing a union to represent them, sans the coercion of speeches, threats of termination or other intimidation.
Such a choice without employer coercion and intimidation would no doubt ultimately ensure the unthinkable - fair treatment on the job and an improved standard of living for millions of families.
Under the Employee Free Choice Act, employers would suffer stiff penalties for engaging in coercive conduct, including the firing of employees for speaking out. The mere threat of penalties might affect the morale of corporate CEOs and forever cause a rethinking at the highest corporate levels as to equity in the workplace and fair play.
THE LAW WOULD also help ensure that where employees choose a union, the union and the employer must reach a first contract - if necessary, by way of mediation or arbitration. Entire corporate strategies designed to checkmate negotiations with unions would become passé.
The Employee Free Choice Act would change the workplace of today. And, in a country where 60 million Americans say they would join a union if they could, maybe it's time for a change. *
Nancy Walker is a Center City attorney who practices labor and employment law and has represented many unions.