Labor's Voice for Change (57) July 30, 2009

What Should Unions Be Doing If EFCA Passes?
And What Have They Failed to Do Until Now?

By Harry Kelber

Here is the current situation regarding the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress. EFPC has more than enough votes to pass the House, but it faces trouble in the Senate, where, although the Democrats have the 60 votes to prevent a Republican filibuster, several Democrats have announced they will vote against the pro-labor measure.

President Obama has indicated he favors Employee Free Choice and will sign an EFCA bill if it comes across his desk Sen. Tom Harkin, a key figure in promoting EFCA, is seeking compromise legislation that will satisfy both unions and employers. And that’s where it now stands.

Organized labor is keenly disappointed. They had expected the “card check” legislation to be approved in the first one hundred days after Obama’s ’sinauguration (Jan. 20), especially because of their efforts. In getting him elected. They are now reduced to marking time, and not knowing when EFCA will be taken up by Congress, whether this year or next, an election year.

What should the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have done during the past two years when they began making EFCA their top priority? They made two fundamental strategic errors. First, they failed to reach out to the millions of unorganized workers, who would be the natural beneficiaries of EFCA. Instead, the campaign was conducted almost entirely by workers who were alreadty union members.

Their second serious mistake was to base their campaign almost exclusively on their own weaknesses and failure to cope with employer aggressiveness. They continuously quoted the many ways (and with percentages) that employers use to intimidate workers from joining unions.

For many observers, it looked like the unions, for the first time in their history, were asking the government for a bailout. The better approach would have been to treat EFCA as a demand for a worker’s civil rights. ”Why should workers be the only group in our society that does not have a right to join an organization, like a union?” That argument could play to labor’s moral behavior than to its organizational weaknesses. It could attract active support from civil rights organizations.

Unions Could Have Built an Army of Volunteer Organizers

In the past two years, major recruiting campaigns have declined to a virtual standstill, as unions await the passage of card-check legislation to make organizing a lot easier. During this time, unions should have trained an army of volunteer organizers to conduct mass organizing campaigns, with or without passage of EFCA.

If EFCA passes, it is naïve to expect millions of workers t0 rush into union halls and ask to sign up; Unions need to have a plan to deal with an influx of applications. But they don’t have a plan. So what’s next?

* * * * *.

If elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council, I shall speak up in favor of training volunteer organizers, because union members are our best hope in rebuilding a bigger and stronger labor movement.—Harry Kelber

Article 58 of Labor’s Voice fir Change: will be posted on Tuesday, Aug. 4