“I think you’ll see the Employee Free Choice Act pass in the first quarter of 2010,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, in a Monday, January 11, speech at the National Press Club in Washington.
Workers will regain the economic ground they’ve lost in terms of wages and benefits over the last decade if they are better able to organize, according to Trumka. About 7 percent of the private-sector workforce belongs to a union.
“The systematic silencing of American workers by denying our right to form unions is at the heart of the disappearance of good jobs in America,” Trumka said. “We must pass the Employee Free Choice Act so that workers can have the chance to turn bad jobs into good jobs, and so we can reduce the inequality which is undermining our prospects for stable economic growth.”
A top legislative priority for unions, the bill has been stalled since its March introduction. Supporters have not been able to secure enough moderate Senate Democrats to overcome a certain Republican filibuster.
The bill would allow workers to form a union when a majority of them sign cards authorizing a bargaining unit. Currently, employers can demand a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
In addition, the measure would institute mandatory binding arbitration on first contract negotiations after 130 days, if an agreement is not reached between unions and management. It also would substantially increase penalties on employers for violations during organizing campaigns.
Over the summer, EFCA negotiations centered on replacing the so-called card-check provision with one that would significantly speed up union elections, according to many sources. Campaigns could start as early as seven to 21 days after election petitions have been filed instead of the usual six weeks or longer.
It’s unclear whether a compromise exists that has the support of the entire 60-member Senate Democratic caucus, which is exactly large enough to squelch GOP delaying tactics like those that killed the bill in 2007.
Trumka’s comments seem to validate the conventional wisdom in Washington that the Senate will turn to EFCA after it approves a final health care reform bill, which could happen later this month.
If EFCA starts moving, it will rekindle a lobbying firestorm that pits unions against the business lobby.
Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, a nonprofit anti-EFCA advocacy organization, doubts that Democrats have enough Senate votes.
“Every time big labor has predicted EFCA was imminent, they were wrong,” Packer said.
Groups like Packer’s use the struggling economy to make their point that EFCA would harm business by ushering in higher labor costs and increased regulations.
“It’s not a particularly hospitable environment for an entrepreneur to take a plunge,” Packer said.
Last November’s elections have reinforced that the bill is unpopular with voters, according to Packer. She cited the victory of Republican Robert McDonnell over Democrat Creigh Deeds in the gubernatorial race in Virginia, a state that President Barack Obama won in 2008.
McDonnell “used the issue to drive a huge wedge with Creigh Deeds, and Deeds ran scared,” Packer said.
Trumka is confident that unions can overcome Republican roadblocks.
“We’re going to have the Employee Free Choice Act despite the determined efforts of the Republican Party and a group of businesspeople who really don’t want any kind of labor law reform at all,” he said.
The AFL-CIO chief also warned wavering Democrats to come through on the labor agenda—from EFCA to health care reform and a jobs bill. Unions invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours of volunteer efforts to help the party increase its House and Senate margins and take the White House in 2008.
“One year into the Obama administration and one year into a Congress with strong Democratic majorities, we need leadership action that matches the urgency that is felt so deeply by working people,” Trumka said. “We will not vote for politicians who think they can push a few crumbs our way and then continue the failed economic policies of the last 30 years.”