Thousands of workers gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday urging Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a controversial bill that would make it easier for unions to organize.
Under EFCA, a union would be certified by the National Labor Relations Board when a majority of employees have signed cards creating a bargaining authority. The bill would eliminate secret ballot elections for establishing unions, which EFCA supporters argue give employers leeway to intimidate employees into rejecting the union.
The rally is a culmination of the Million Member Mobilization initiative through which representatives across unions gathered 1.5 million signatures in support of the bill.
"These workers are just a few of the thousands of workers who are coerced or even terminated every year for trying to exercise their basic freedom to form a union and bargain," read a statement about the rally posted on the AFL-CIO's Web site.
That number doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of American workers as a whole, said Jonathan Wilson, chair of the labor and employment group at Haynes and Boone.
"It's called Employee Free Choice, but really it is the exact opposite," he said. "Can you imagine the outcry in local or state or national politics if instead of giving people an opportunity to vote, all you had to do was get a petition signed and all of a sudden that becomes the binding law for everybody?"
Rep. George Miller (D-CA), who spoke at Wednesday's rally, said in a 2007 statement announcing his support of the bill that EFCA would lead to more cooperation between employers and employees.
"We cannot continue on our nation's current path," he said, "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." He said workers would retain the option to vote on the union.
Vice President Biden said in a Jan. 29 press briefing that he expects Congress to take action on the Obama-endorsed bill this year. Some predict the administration will address the bill within the first 100 days of office.
See "Labor Days" in the February 2009 issue for more on the Employee Free Choice Act.