Free Choice Is a Bad Choice


April 1, 2009

by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief

Recent federal legislation has been designed to contain the economic crisis, stabilize credit markets, and stimulate job growth through investments in industries – such as infrastructure – that would put more people to work and put businesses back in the black. However, the recently introduced Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) [H.R. 1409/ S. 560] might have the opposite impact. Just ask Citibank.

On March 10, the day EFCA was introduced, Citibank analyst Deborah Weinswig downgraded Walmart’s stock from “buy” to “hold” based on the legislation’s potential impact on the retail giant. Given that Walmart has been one of the few bright spots in the recent retail market, the implications are huge. According to an Internet newspaper,, Citibank held a conference call on March 11 to discuss EFCA. It reports that the conference call was led by Glenn Spencer, a senior executive with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “From the Chamber’s perspective, and I would say probably from the whole business community’s perspective, there are really no amendments you could make to this bill that would make it acceptable,” Spencer told attendees.

As detailed during a meeting of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s (NSSGA) Government Affairs Division that same day, the EFCA contains two particularly troublesome provisions: it would eliminate the secret ballot and it would give federal arbitrators the ability to dictate a binding contract if the two sides of a union negotiation could not reach an agreement within 120 days.

Why are secret ballots important? It’s pretty simple. It protects a worker’s right to vote his conscience without pressure from either his employer or his union. If the identity of workers who sign – or don’t sign – union organizing cards are made public, they face repercussions from either party. It literally creates a no-win situation for workers.

The idea of a Beltway Bureaucrat deciding a union contract is equally ludicrous. Having been through rather tense union negotiations (which included my home telephone number on posters dotting the protest line), I will say that reaching a mutually agreeable contract isn’t easy. Some issues merit compromise, while others simply aren’t optional for one or more of the parties. Only the groups involved in the process understand what contract points fall into each category and why. Even more importantly, the two groups are the ones that must work together after the contract is finalized. Bringing in a federal arbitrator to mandate terms circumvents the resolution process that allows everyone to shake hands at the end of difficult negotiations.

Regardless of your standpoint on unions, this bill is a stinker. Do yourself, your workers, and your company a favor: take a few minutes out of your day and tell your senators and representatives that you don’t support this legislation and they shouldn’t either.

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