Labor's Voice for Change (14) March 3, 2009

Why President Obama is not Pushing EFCA;
Does AFL-CIO Have a Plan B for Organizing?

By Harry Kelber

President Obama and Democrats in Congress have assured the nation’s labor leaders that they are in favor of enacting the Employee Free Choice Act, but nearly six weeks have passed since the January 20 inauguration without a sign that the EFCA will become law in the near future.

The Obama administration has a point in keeping EFCA on the back-burner. Surely, it has more pressing issues to worry about. Just to mention a few: bank and corporate bailouts, massive layoffs and home foreclosures, millions of people without health insurance, two costly wars, plus Iran and North Korea.

Moreover, Obama is acutely aware that if an Employee Free Choice bill is introduced in Congress, it will unleash a high-powered campaign by Big Business to defeat the measure, no matter what the cost. The bloody encounter between labor and the corporate community over EFCA would be an embarrassment to Obama, who is trying to create a spirit of harmony and cooperation among contending organizations.

The AFL-CIO has collected two million signatures in favor of EFCA. It insists, with convincing evidence, that employers are preventing their workers from joining unions by a policy of harassment, intimidation and actual firings. Here is how EFCA would help “level the playing field” between unions and employers. It would:

• Allow workers to join unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.

• Provide mediation and arbitration for first contract disputes.

• Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights in joining unions.

Obama’s advisers say that while EFCA is a do-or-die issue for organized labor, it has little traction with the general public, which is focused on the economy. Nor is there any solid evidence that unorganized workers are supporting the EFCA campaign.

Obama himself appears puzzled on how to handle the problem. Recently, he talked vaguely about calling union and employer representatives together to work out a “compromise.” Indeed, if the employers can’t defeat EFCA outright, their allies in Congress will try to cripple it with a string of amendments.

The AFL-CIO says that, as a matter of fairness and justice, workers should not be denied the right to join unions. Labor leaders also point out that unions played a key role in electing Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress and, without saying so publicly, they feel they deserve some special consideration, like quick passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

If Congress Fails to Pass EFCA, Does Labor Have a Plan B?

Smart strategists plan for victory, but also prepare a fall-back position in case of defeat or an unfavorable compromise. The AFL-CIO position is so predicated on winning the Employee Free Choice this year, it has no Plan B in case of failure. But many labor leaders are not so certain that Congress will pass EFCA in its present form. What then?

It’s already been four years since the AFL-CIO initiated its campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act. To make their case for EFCA, unions had to show they were no match for aggressive employers, who had so many ways to thwart organizing campaigns. Unorganized workers accepted labor’s assertion that workers would be taking a big risk by attempting to join a union.

In the past two years, union organizing campaigns have been severely limited or cancelled. The AFL-CIO leadership is treading water, waiting for passage of EFCA, when, they hope, millions of workers will be rushing to join unions.

To the nation’s top labor leaders, failure to pass EFCA is unthinkable. They have gambled labor’s future growth on its passage.

We earnestly hope that Congress will pass EFCA. But if it doesn’t, we have a Plan B to propose.

AFL-CIO needs new leaders with fresh ideas and an inspiring message!

Article 15 of Labor’s Voice for Change” will appear on Thursday, March 5.