CHN: Workers Lose As Senate Legislation Fails

Legislation that would have boosted access to higher wages and better fringe benefits through unionization will not be going anywhere – for now.
The Senate blocked a vote on Tuesday that would have ended the delaying tactic of further debate on the Employee Free Choice Act (S.1041).  The motion failed 51-48, nine votes short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, effectively stalling the legislation. All Democrats (except for Sen. Johnson, D-SD, who is still recovering from a major health issue) voted in favor of ending debate, along with Sen. Specter (R-PA).  All other Republicans voted against cloture, which can be interpreted as opposition to S. 1041.  H.R. 800, the House counterpart bill, passed with bipartisan support by a vote of 241-185 in March.  However, that vote was well short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a veto promised by President Bush.

The bill would have leveled the playing field in the workplace by allowing workers to join a union without employer interference, requiring mediation and arbitration between the union and employer if a timely agreement is not reached during bargaining on the first contract, and creating penalties for employers who intimidate employees.  Currently, employers have the right to demand a secret ballot election before a union can be certified.  In the proposed legislation, union organizers could bypass elections when a majority of employees sign cards in favor of establishing union representation, known as “card check.”  Union advocates contend that the current secret ballot elections are really management-controlled processes because corporations have so much power to intimidate employees trying to organize a union. “Card check” or majority sign-up for employees would likely minimize workplace conflict.

Too many employers have carried out unjust practices against union employees.  Currently, 92 percent of employers force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union.  One in four employers illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns.  EFCA would greatly reduce such illegal and intimidating tactics by increasing penalties on employers for violations against  employees’ rights.

Reports confirm that there are clear advantages for union workers.  For example, union workers’ median weekly earnings amount to around $833 while nonunion workers’ median weekly earnings only amount to $642 – a 30 percent difference.  While 15 percent of nonunion workers are without health care coverage, only 2.5 percent of union workers are without health insurance.  Other fringe benefits such as guaranteed pensions, short-term disability benefits and paid vacation days are improved for workers affiliated with a union.  In addition, women, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans disproportionately receive better wages when they are able to associate with a union.

According to a Peter D. Hart survey, 60 million Americans who are currently nonunion workers say they want to have a union in their workplace.

For more information about majority sign-up and secret ballot elections:

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