Unions are once again trying to have their friends in Congress make it easier for them to organize employees. One such piece of legislation, the “Employee Choice Act” would allow unions to avoid government run secret ballot union representation elections in favor of union authorization card checks. This bill, S. 842, was introduced in Congress this past April and sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. Its identical House of Representatives companion bill, H.R. 1696, is sponsored by Congressman George Miller of California. The Senate Bill currently boasts forty (40) mostly Democrat co-sponsors, including Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. As of yet, very little action has been taken on the legislation. The Senate Bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on April 19, 2005. The House Bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations on May 9, 2005.
Employers and employees should be extremely wary of this legislation as it purports to “streamline” the process of union certification by amending Section 9(c) of the National Labor Relations Act to allow the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to certify a labor organization without a secret ballot election if it finds that a majority of an employer’s employees signed authorizations designating a union as their bargaining representative. Allowing unions to bypass NLRB election procedures would cripple an employer’s ability to fully educate their employees about union membership. It would also hinder the ability of employees to make decisions regarding union representation, free from coercion, in a secret ballot election.
The legislation also seeks to facilitate the establishment of an initial collective bargaining agreement following certification or recognition and provides stiffer penalties for labor law violations. Both bills seek to add Section 8(h) to the National Labor Relations Act requiring employers to meet and commence bargaining collectively within ten (10) days of a written request, making “every reasonable effort” to conclude such an agreement. The amendment allows for a mediator to be appointed if the parties fail to reach an agreement within ninety (90) days. If, after thirty (30) days from the request for mediation, no agreement has been reached, the matter is referred to an arbitration panel which will render a decision that is binding for two (2) years. Finally, the legislation amends Sections 10(l), 10(c) and 12 of the National Labor Relations Act: (1) providing, for the purpose of obtaining injunctive relief, that priority be given to the preliminary investigation of charges of violations by employers during the representational process; (2) remedying 8(a)(3) discrimination violations with an award of back pay plus liquidated damages equaling twice the back pay amount; and (3) providing civil damages of up to $20,000 each for willful or repeated 8(a)(1) or 8(a)(3) violation.
Employers are encouraged to contact their representatives to express opposition to the Employee Choice Act.