Security Shredding and Storage - a shredding industry publication
BATTLE PITS LABOR VS. BUSINESS

By P.J. Heller


If ever a document needed to be shredded, it would be the Employee Free Choice Act, according to employers, business organizations nationwide and GOP lawmakers.


Labor unions, which over the years have seen their membership numbers dwindle, along with Democrats in the House and Senate — and even President Barack Obama — are pushing for the pending legislation to become the law of the land.


The battle lines have been clearly drawn over the controversial measure, leaving some security shredding and recycling company owners and other business executives carefully eying Washington to see what may be in store for the future of labor relations.


“The unions are trying to impose things that are so unfair,” says Bob Cook, chairman of Cook Paper Recycling in Kansas City, Mo.


“It’s a bad way to handle this,” adds the head of a Texas security shredding company of the legislation.


“The Employee Free Choice Act will not only subvert a long-standing democratic process, it's an attempt to overturn more than 60 years of established labor law,” contends Susan Eckerly of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “The last thing small business owners need is a government official stepping [in] to dictate the wages and benefits they offer their employees.”


A key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act — EFCA — would eliminate the secret ballot for workers, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, when determining whether to unionize. It would be replaced with a “card check” system, allowing employees to organize simply by signing a card authorizing union representation.


Cook says eliminating the secret ballot “would be a tragedy.”


“The unions don’t want a level playing field, they want the deck stacked,” he says. “It would be a real tragedy to see a thing like the secret ballot taken away from the American worker because time and time again workers have turned down unions once they are given the opportunity.”


To prove his point, Cook cites two attempts to unionize workers at a paper recycling company which he headed. Both times, nearly 100 percent of the workers signed cards supporting unionization, but both organizing efforts were defeated when workers cast secret ballots.


“Employees should be able to vote their conscience in a private ballot election, free from intimidation or fear of retribution,” insists Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Members of Congress should not deny workers the freedom to choose.”


“This legislation goes against the fundamental right of political expression without fear of coercion,” adds Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “As Americans, we expect to be able to vote on everything from high school class president to the president of the United States in private. Workers expect the same right in union elections.


“To put it simply, the Employee ‘No Choice’ Act is undemocratic,” the Kentucky Republican says while vowing that the party faithful will continue to oppose the measure.


“Republicans will oppose any legislation which attempts to undermine our economic health and job creation, and we will oppose the effort to take away a worker’s right to a secret ballot,” McConnell says.


EFCA was reintroduced in Congress on March 10. It was passed in the House two years earlier by a 241-185 vote, but was then filibustered by Senate Republicans in June of that year. Then-President George Bush said he would veto the measure if it passed.


The bill had been previously introduced in the House and Senate in 2003 and again in 2005. It stalled both times and never came to a floor vote.


"For small business owners, it's a nightmare to see this bill resurrected from the grave in which the last Congress rightly laid it to rest,” says Eckerly, senior vice president for public policy with NFIB.


President Obama has said he would sign the bill if it was passed, a move which seemed somewhat in doubt after a few congressional supporters raised new concerns about the measure. An amended bill, eliminating the card check and allowing the secret ballot, could make the legislation more palatable to some.


Business owners argue the bill would have a negative impact on an already imploded economy and would result in fewer jobs being created.


McConnell cited one study that contended passage of the bill could cost 600,000 American jobs annually.


“At a time when all of us are looking to stimulate the economy and put Americans back to work, we threaten to undermine those efforts with this job-killing bill,” he says.


"This can only be interpreted as an attack on our country's principal job creators and therefore, the economy as a whole,” Eckerly adds. “This was a bad bill in 2007 and the ensuing years haven't made it any more palatable.”


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another staunch opponent of the measure, agreed. The chamber describes itself as the world’s largest business federation representing more than 3 million businesses and organizations.


“At a time when the economy is still in fragile shape and worker anxiety is high, people are starting to figure out how bad this bill would be for workers and Main Street businesses,” notes Steven Law, chief legal officer and general counsel with the Chamber.


A letter to lawmakers sent by 180 state and local chambers of commerce advised that “given the growing economic recession, it is critical that businesses have the flexibility necessary to meet the needs of a challenging economy if we are to create an environment in which businesses can grow and create jobs. The Employee Free Choice Act is inconsistent with this critical goal.”


Democrats from Obama on down, as well as the AFL-CIO and other labor unions, vehemently disagree. Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill when he was in the Senate.


“I don’t buy the argument that providing workers with collective-bargaining rights somehow weakens the economy or worsens the business environment,” Obama has said. “If you’ve got workers who have decent pay and benefits, they’re also customers for business.”


“The current crisis has shown us the dangers of an economy that leaves working families behind,” says Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “The people who work in our factories, build our roads and care for our children are the backbone of this great nation. The Employee Free Choice Act will give these hardworking men and women a greater voice in the decisions that affect their families and their futures. It’s a critical step toward putting our economy back on track, and I hope that we can act quickly to send it to the President’s desk."


Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a member of Kennedy’s committee, echoes those sentiments.


“Just as the National Labor Relations Act, the 40-hour week and the minimum wage helped to pull us out of the Great Depression and into a period of unprecedented prosperity, so too will the Employee Free Choice Act help reinvigorate our economy,” he says.

Harkin insists that EFCA will put “power back into the hands of the people who are truly the backbone of this economy.”


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, another ardent supporter, called the bill a “win-win” for employees and employers.


The EFCA “will mean higher wages, better health insurance and safer working conditions for Americans,” Reid predicted. “We know that employees who receive a fair standard of living are more productive, and if we are going to restore the middle class, we need to ensure our economy works for all Americans.”


In the House, Rep. George Miller of California also pushed for passage of the measure, saying it would give workers the leverage they have lacked.


“Americans’ wages have been stagnating or falling for the past decade. For far too long, we have seen corporate CEOs take care of themselves and shareholders at the expense of workers,” says Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. “If we want a fair and sustainable recovery from this economic crisis, we must give workers the ability to stand up for themselves and once again share in the prosperity they help to create.”


Cook, however, questioned how businesses would be able to handle those added costs.


“Businesses are not a bottomless pit. Somebody has to pay for all that,” he says, adding that such additional costs end up reducing jobs.


“If they push too hard it reduces the industry altogether and that’s what’s going to happen in this country,” Cook says. “Unions are a good reason why a lot of manufacturers have finally had to close their doors.”


AFL-CIO officials say the measure will give workers the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.


As proposed, the bill “would enable working people to bargain for better benefits, wages and working conditions by restoring workers’ freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union,” union officials say.


It argues that EFCA would “remove current obstacles to employees who want collective bargaining, guarantee that workers who can choose collective bargaining are able to achieve a contract and allow employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation.”


While the card check provision of the measure appears to be the most contentious, other sections also are raising concern, including requiring mandatory arbitration for a first contract if a voluntary agreement cannot be reached within 120 days.


Cook labels the arbitration clause “a terrible injustice” to employers because it forces them into arbitration after just a short period of time.


“So there’s very little chance of negotiation,” he says.


Another provision would increase penalties for unfair labor practices committed by employers but not by unions.


“We are adding too much government involvement to small business,” laments one security shredding company owner.

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