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ATA highlights labor proposal

With card check legislation looming on the Congressional horizon, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) wants to highlight the broad implications the so-called Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) could have on the business community.

First, the legislation rewrites laws regarding the process workers use to elect union representation. Under current law, private ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determine whether employees want union representation. Employees of a workforce must first sign cards that indicate a desire to consider union representation, and then the NLRB supervises a secret ballot election to verify the request, according to ATA.

If enacted, the Employee Free Choice Act would waive NLRB’s requirement to administer the secret ballot portion of the process if a majority of workers signed cards authorizing a union. During this card check campaign, an employee would be given a union authorization card by a union organizer and asked to publicly declare, then and there, whether he or she supports the union.

If the majority of workers signed cards authorizing union representation, the NLRB would - instead of administering a secret ballot vote to verify the card check- be required to certify the union as the sole representative for those workers.

In addition to card check provisions, the EFCA also allows the Federal government to impose the terms of labor contracts through mandatory binding arbitration. After the NLRB certifies a union as the workforce representative, current law requires the union and the employer to bargain in good faith. During collective bargaining if the union thinks the employer breaches the good faith arrangement it has the option to strike, according to ATA.

Under the EFCA, after 90 days of contract negotiations between a newly certified union and an employer, either party may request mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). If the parties fail to reach an agreement or extend negotiations within 30 days, the FMCS would send the dispute into binding arbitration.

The government arbitrator would then impose a binding two-year contract specifying wages and working conditions. Employers could not appeal the terms of the contract, and the newly organized workers could not vote to ratify the provisions or oppose the terms through a strike. Both sides would be bound by the arbitrator’s decision.

The EFCA passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 241-185 this past Congress. Ultimately, it was defeated due to President Bush’s veto threat and the Senate’s inability to garner a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

With the new President and Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act is destined to resurface in the 2009 Congressional agenda.

Taking away the right of a company and its employees to request a secret ballot vote opens the door to intimidation and coercion. Supporters of this legislation say the EFCA does not specifically ban secret ballot voting but in fact union organizers - not the workers themselves - decide whether a secret ballot election should go forward.

Union officials are unlikely to call for secret ballot votes and risk defeat when they can simply pressure 50 percent of the workforce to authorize unionization. Also the binding arbitration provisions empower the government – rather than the parties involved -- to set workers’ wages and working conditions, ATA said.

ATA said it fully supports the right of workers to organize. ATA believes preserving an employee’s right to cast a secret ballot – as voters do in the election of public officials – is critical to the integrity of the voting process. Any legislative proposal that denies a secret ballot election to workers or subjects employers and workers to mandatory binding arbitration is simply undemocratic.

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