Bernard: EFCA Slams Door of Opportunity Shut on Minorities

Posted May 15, 2009 at 10:43am

Our country’s focus has rightly been on the economy in recent months. Given that the economic situation remains precarious, you might assume Congress would be focused on measures that would encourage growth.

Yet some in Congress are shifting their attention to other things that will actually harm the economy. Take the Employee “Free— Choice Act. Despite the fact that the legislation will cause unemployment to rise, some Congressional leaders continue to bow to the demands of labor union bosses to talk of a “compromise— on this egregious legislation that will especially harm minority workers and businesses.

There can be no compromise to eliminating the rights of workers to vote by secret ballot in union organizing elections — and that’s exactly what EFCA would do.

Currently, after a union collects enough signatures supporting the call for unionization, a business can (and usually does) request an election. Under EFCA, such an election would no longer be necessary. Once a majority of workers sign a card, the business would be required to recognize the union.

This creates a number of problems for employees. First, there is the potential for unions to coerce, intimidate or mislead workers into signing the card. Today, workers commonly complain that labor organizers often tell workers that signing a card is merely a request for more information or serves some other innocuous purpose. Under EFCA, unions would have more of an incentive to do so.

Second, getting rid of an election removes a vital part of the employee education process about the benefits and drawbacks of unionization. Election campaigns change people’s minds. Union officials make their case, and employers are also able to provide employees with information about some of the rights they lose and potential consequences of becoming a union shop. Union officials don’t like it, but good employers have a positive story to tell their employees, and an organizing election gives companies a chance to tell it.

Just as there can be no negotiation on the issue of whether workers should have the right to a secret ballot and election process, there also can be no compromise on the imposition of binding arbitration in contract negotiations. If EFCA is passed, the federal government will be able to saddle businesses with federal bureaucrats who would dictate workplace salaries, benefits and rules. The contracts would then be binding for two years, depriving workers and employers of having a voice in approving or rejecting their own contracts. The potential effects of such federal micromanaging could be devastating for business and their workers: As costs and burdens increase, many businesses would find their budgets squeezed and may ultimately have to close their doors permanently.

There can be no compromise on legislation that economists estimate could cost up to 600,000 American jobs in the first year alone and millions more in the years to come. This should concern all Americans, but we know generally when there is an unemployment crisis, it affects the general population one way, and it has an even more negative impact on minorities.

Minority business owners are willing to sacrifice their life savings, commit all of their families’ time, and take out second mortgages on their homes, all to realize the dream of owning a business. How many will continue to do so, knowing that the federal government can impose wages, hours and employee benefits on them, changing the rules at any moment?

Given these facts, it’s no surprise that most businesses are wary of EFCA. In a new poll commissioned by the Independent Women’s Forum and conducted by Lombardo Consulting Group, we found that small-business owners believe EFCA will not only hurt their business in general, but will also hurt their relationship with employees and their ability to provide jobs in their community.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, yet they stand to lose the most if EFCA is passed. Given the Labor Department’s April report that unemployment rose to the highest level since 1983 — 8.9 percent — our country cannot afford more unemployment, and therefore cannot afford EFCA.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice. She is also author of “Women’s Progress: How Women and Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before,— and is an MSNBC political analyst.