Election Is Good News For Unions

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 12, 2008
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The economy was the key issue in the general election. The tough economic times - soaring gas prices, food prices, home foreclosures, the escalating cost of health care and shattered retirement plans - made political promises appear more attractive. And while wages for working men and women have stagnated, pay and bonuses for CEOs have publicly skyrocketed.

Sooner or later elected officials will be forced to pass some kind of relief for the work force, and it now looks like the next president of the United States, Barack Obama, will do just that.

If you are wondering why there was so much union-backed advertising during the past election, it is because it is their responsibility to defend and represent their members - it’s an important part of the promise to the members when they pay union dues. It’s becoming more evident in Hawaii that companies that invest here can declare bankruptcy and leave town with little regard for the plight of the workers. Layoffs and stories about outsourcing of services to cut costs are commonplace.


It’s true that one of the best ways for working men and women to get ahead economically is by uniting with co-workers to bargain with management collectively. The problem for the working men and women is, it’s not easy to organize a union under current labor laws. Currently the National Labor Relations Act has become somewhat of a barrier to workers’rights. Even after workers successfully form unions, much of the time they can’t get a first contract successfully negotiated.

So what can employers look forward to now that the Democrats have succeeded in their quest? First, get ready for the reintroduction and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (H.R.800, S1041). This is a piece of bipartisan legislation introduced originally by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass). It passed the U.S. House of Representatives 241-185 on March 1, 2007 and gained majority support in the U.S. Senate on June 26, 2007 but was blocked by a Republican filibuster. Chances are that’s not going to happen the next time around.

Most taxpayers have never heard of this legislation; however, it’s a good bet they will learn more about it in the near future because both Sens. Obama and Biden helped manage the legislation the last time around.

So, what does the proposed bill say? Simply put, it requires that when a majority of employees have signed authorization designating the union as its bargaining representative, the union will be certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It changes the current corporate-dominated representation process that encourages companies to intimidate workers who seek to form a union and/or influence their choice. The second thing it will do is when an employer and newly formed union are unable to bargain a first contract within 90 days, either party can request mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). If no agreement is reached after 30 days of mediation, the dispute is referred to binding arbitration. The tactic commonly used by corporations to delay and stall negotiations will be dramatically reduced. Said another way, this will make the union organizer’s job much easier.

In most cases, management is well-schooled in ways to get around federal labor laws, but failure to adhere to this version of the free choice law could get expensive. The civil penalty in the proposed legislation is $20,000 per violation against companies breaking the law. The remedy prescribed by the law is the much-feared “Treble Back Pay.” This provision increases the back pay three times the amount a company is required to pay when it is found guilty of discriminating against an employee during an organizing campaign and/or first contract negotiations.

Lastly, the legislation equalizes by making mandatory injunctive remedies against companies the same as the currently required injunctive remedies against unions. Isn’t it interesting how one general election can level the playing field?

But here’s a hint: When attempting to predict and forecast microeconomic moves or economic legislation by a politician, never be misled by what he or she says; instead, watch what they do.

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