Employee Free Choice Act Introduced with Bipartisan, Majority Backing
Years of building support on Capitol Hill for the Employee Free Choice Act paid off this week when labor leaders joined the bill's sponsors to announce that the bill — H.R. 800 — was introduced in the U.S. House with bipartisan backing from a majority of members and full support of the new leadership.
CWA President Larry Cohen and other supporters herald the bill as American workers' best hope to form unions and bargain contracts with employers who brazenly break labor laws to keep unions out, knowing they will suffer few, if any, consequences.
Cohen said CWA will step up its already vigorous campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act with a week of action beginning Feb. 19 that will include events in every district, including news conferences, worker round tables, meetings with lawmakers, rallies and more.
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said 229 House members have joined him as co-sponsors — 223 Democrats and seven Republicans. "We cannot continue on our nation's current path, where CEOs have complete freedom to negotiate lavish pay and retirement packages for themselves while workers have no leverage to make their own lives better," said Miller, the bill's long-time champion and chief sponsor. "Our economy is more unequal than it has been at any point since before the New Deal."
Workers who have been fired, threatened and harassed trying to form unions testified about the importance of the Employee Free Choice Act at a Feb. 8 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.
Witnesses included CWA Local 2204 member Teresa Joyce, who talked about the difference it made when union-friendly Cingular took over anti-union AT&T Wireless. Unhappy with low wages and unfair treatment by supervisors, the then-AT&T Wireless workers in Virginia began to form a union through CWA.
"Once word reached management that we were trying to organize, they did everything they could to stop us," Joyce said. "Supervisors constantly threatened that AT&T Wireless would leave town and we would lose our jobs. They also claimed that if we did succeed, our union dues would be so enormous we may actually need two jobs."
Joyce described other flagrant acts of intimidation and disrespect, from supervisors tearing down union flyers in the workers' break room to relentless harassment of union supporters. Months into their struggle, workers learned that Cingular was purchasing the company and that it would remain neutral if employees wanted to organize.
"It was a relief to know that we could finally speak openly about the union without the fear of employer retaliation," she said. "In 2005, a majority of us voted for the union by signing authorization cards and on Sept. 6, 2005, we were officially recognized as CWA members. Management even helped us arrange a cookout at the call center to celebrate."
Similar to what happens now at Cingular, the Employee Free Choice Act would allow workers nationwide to organize when a majority signs cards indicating they want union representation. The bill calls for first contract arbitration so that employers can't use the stalling tactics they get away with today to avoid bargaining in good faith. Employers could be fined up to $20,000 per violation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business groups are aggressively opposing the bill.
The seven Republican House members who have signed onto the bill include the lead GOP sponsor, Peter King of New York, along with Chris Shays of Connecticut, Steve LaTourette of Ohio, John McHugh and Vito Fossella of New York and Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey.