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Labor Issues

Legislative Issue Update - June 2008

[updated June 2008]

During the 12 years that Republicans controlled Congress, Organized Labor’s legislative priorities got little attention; none were signed into law and few even seriously considered. All that changed with the 2006 elections since organized labor played a major role in electing the new Democrat majority.

While labor did not achieve their legislative objectives in 2007, they did accomplish their mission: they did their homework, got their bills introduced, and set the stage for 2008. Moreover, they are intent on expanding their majorities in both houses of Congress and electing a Democrat president in the 2008 elections to set the stage for legislative victories in 2009.

Minimum Wage [updated June 2008]

Enactment of an increase in the minimum wage was one of Labor’s key legislative priorities for 2007, and was the top issue on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) legislative agenda for last year. Although their success was complicated by a number of factors and it took them more than five months to get it done, they did finally succeed in getting the wage increased from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over two years. This was, however, labor’s only singular success to date.

Employee Free Choice Act [updated June 2008]

Labor’s top priority in this Congress, and the issue on which they are basing their extensive election effort this year, is the mis-named “Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA), or “card check” legislation. Union membership has been on the decline in the U.S. workplace for years – down to 7.4% of the private sector workforce today. Card check legislation is organized labor’s response to that decline

Under a card check system, a union conducting an organizing drive would be immediately and automatically recognized as the certified collective bargaining agent if it is able to persuade 50% plus one of the employees in a workplace to sign authorization cards. Workers who decline to sign an authorization card – which they would have to be willing to do in the presence of union organizers – would be denied any voice or vote in the process and compelled to accept the union as their bargaining agent.

Moreover, once the union is recognized, if the employer and union fail to reach an agreement within 120 days, the union can demand that the negotiations be referred to “interest” arbitration in which a third-party arbitrator – with no responsibility for the economic health and profitability of the business – will decide the terms of the agreement. And that agreement would be binding on the employer for two years.

Enactment of EFCA would be a true “game changer.” Card check would result in a dramatic increase in union membership and an evergreen infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars into union coffers – and from there into the campaigns of pro-labor candidates for office, ensuring their continued majority control of Congress and enactment of a policy agenda largely hostile to both employers and workers who may not agree with that agenda.

Organized labor leaders believe the 2008 elections will provide the means to their ultimate success. The Wall Street Journal recently estimated that Labor and allied groups will spend not just the hundreds of millions of dollars they publicly claim they’ll spend, but closer to one BILLION dollars, to elect Members of Congress who will vote for the “Employee Free Choice Act” and a President who will sign it into law.

NAW is on the Management and Steering Committees of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a business coalition which was organized to oppose the card check bill. Since we do not expect the legislation to be considered again by this Congress, the Coalition is focused on a paid media and communications effort this year and in 2009. A recent CDW ad featured the HBO television series “The Soprano’s” character “Johnny Sack” snapping his fingers to remove the voting booth from around a worker about to cast his vote in a union certification election, exposing the voting worker to a room full of people watching him vote.

While the Coalition is determined to wage an aggressive communications campaign this year in opposition to Card Check, the size of our effort will be dwarfed by the promised labor campaign for its enactment. Business will need to remain actively involved in the effort to defeat this dangerous legislation.

Other Labor Issues [updated June 2008]

While “card check” is labor’s top priority, they have not limited their legislative initiatives to that big prize. In addition to the expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act which is covered in a separate staff report, there are numerous other labor issues being considered in Congress of which business should be aware. Among them:

  • “Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” – would reverse a Supreme Court decision and effectively eliminate the statue of limitations on pay discrimination lawsuits. This bill passed the House of Representatives, but was defeated in April in the Senate by a Republican filibuster. However, the Senate vote was not good news for opponents of the legislation. Six Republicans joined the Democrats in support of the legislation giving them 57 votes, only three short of the 60 necessary to end the filibuster. There is a very strong probability that this bill will be passed by both houses of Congress next year;
  •  “The Respect (Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Trade Workers) Act” – this bill would change the definition of “supervisor” to make it easier for unions to include supervisors in bargaining unit;
  • Efforts to impose new OSHA ergonomics regulations (at least one bill has been introduced in the House);
  • Significant expansion of the “Equal Pay Act” (House has held hearings);
  • “Americans with Disabilities Restoration Act” was introduced as a measure which would dramatically expand the definition of “disabled” to include any person who has – or is perceived to have – either physical or mental impairments sufficient to restrict major functions. The legislation has now been modified, and a compromise acceptable to both Parties in the House is likely. There is no immediate action anticipated in the Senate;
  • “Healthy Families Act” – would require that employers of more than 15 employees provide minimum paid sick leave and allow that leave to be used for family as well as personal medical needs (introduced in House and Senate); and
  • “Davis Bacon Act” expansion and extension (more than 30 separate measures have been introduced and numerous provisions have been added to other bills).