Congress and the Choice Act

No, not THAT choice act. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which unlike the bugaboo pro-abortion bill that still has not been introduced in Congress, is beginning to gain traction as the nation’s economic woes cause everyone to look beyond the fluctuations in the Dow Jones Industrial Average to the systemic problems in the U.S. economy. Among these, the decline in union membership in the past several decades is one of the worst societal trends and the EFCA aims to rectify it.

Critics of EFCA have focused on the card-check system by which employees would be able to form a union as soon as a majority of workers sign cards indicating they want a union to represent them. But, current law actually allows for this procedure already. The problem is that the company, not the workers, decide when and how to hold an election to ratify the card-check system. In practice, the company can use its control over scheduling, access to information at the workplace, and intimidation of union organizers to discourage an affirmative vote. Under EFCA, the workers would decide when and if to hold an election to ratify the check-cards.

EFCA would also put some backbone into the enforcement mechanisms. Penalties for firing workers because they are trying to organize would stiffen. In addition to a $20,000 penalty for each violation of the National Labor Relations Act found to be willful or repetitive, employers would have to pay triple back pay for workers unjustly fired.

Anyone who knows a union organizer can regale you with horror stories about how companies discourage unionization. The power an employer has within the workplace is virtually absolute unless it is challenged and workers, unprotected by unions have little recourse but to get along. Additionally, while excessive profits helped fuel the expectations game on Wall Street with disastrous results, real wages for most workers have fallen. Leveling the playing field for union organizers might help reverse these trends.

Ever since Pope Leo XIII issued his seminal encyclical on social justice Rerum Novarum in 1891, the Church has supported the rights of workers to organize. In our own country, Cardinal Gibbons led the defense of the Knights of Labor in the late nineteenth century and such clerics as Archbishop Hanna, Cardinal John O’Connor, Msgr. George Higgins and Msgr. John A. Ryan were tireless in their support for workers.

Last week, Catholics in Connecticut rightly protested a proposal that would have interfered with the Church’s right to govern itself. But, one legislator, State Senator Andrew Maynard,/lamented the Church’s lack of urgency on other matters: “Everyday, we are up here (at the Capitol) working on health care or helping the poor and social justice issues and nary a word from Catholics but as soon as we touch gay rights or something like this we get inundated with phone calls and e-mails.”

Now is a time for the bishops, clergy and laity to get involved. We Catholics have been disappointed by some of the Obama administration’s positions and pleased with others. If we help get EFCA passed we will have more leverage the next time a decision has to be made about life issues. Pope Pius XI once lamented that the Church “has lost the working class.” It is time to win them back. For the good of the Church and the good of the country, Catholics should support EFCA loudly and clearly.

Michael Sean Winter

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8 years 8 months ago
As for the "bugaboo bill", you blithely blew off in the first sentence: it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the FOCA bill is so controversial that the Administration and Congress would be politically wise (although depravedly evil) in passing it after the fuss dies and people aren't looking as closely. Alternatively (and more likely, and just as evil) they will incrementally enact individual components so that they would eventually have the law without having to pass it in one fell swoop. As for the EFCA, while this (unlike the above bill) is not a black and white choice of evil and good but a prudential judgment about what is the best way to protect employee rights, I do not support it. I simply do not like the idea of not letting the elections be secret ballots. If one is known to have supported the union and management gets mad, management gets punished. If one is known to have opposed the union and ones coworkers or union finds out, there are pressures that can be applied consequence free. Drop the public balloting, and maybe I will reconsider my stance. And what is with the low blow in the penultimate paragraph? Do we need to modify Goodwin's law to get people to stop randomly insulting the Church?
8 years 8 months ago
But why should the ballots not be secret?
8 years 8 months ago
Sorry, may have mis-typed (or maybe I have misread the article) I am OK with secret ballots, so no one can be signgled out for pressure. I am against public ballots, because of the danger of individuals being pressured based on the result of an election.
8 years 8 months ago
Are you familiar with the Sword of Damoclese? This is what Card Check at the employee's option is. If companies misbehave in regard to calling fair elections, employees have the option to do something about it. While better enforcement by this administration will likely redress some of the balance, the fact that GOP legislators are citing the economy as a reason to remain anti-union means that more rights are necessary for workers to organize. There will one day be a Republican Administration in power. Card Check at the employee option means that Republican malfeasance at DOL will not go unchecked.
8 years 8 months ago
Michael-- Do you seriously think that the Catholic church’s position on EFCA will have a hill of beans impact right to life issues or is necessary for the good of the church? You jest I trust. At times I think your beginning to offer an independent “left of center” position on politics and then you fallback to the DNC talking points. Let me offer you a counter argument. EFCA is a bad bill for the future of labor unions. Wait, this is impossible you will argue, all of the very large labor union bosses are breathless in describing this legislation as necessary for the preservation of all worker rights. The core issue that will sink unions if this law is enacted is eliminating the secret ballot. I do note you never reference the words “secret ballot” in your entire essay. The reason is simple, union elections can be controversial and --like general elections --the vast majority of people believe that everyone is entitled to decide if they want a union or not without anyone else knowing how they voted. Unions, and those who unthinkingly parrot their views, want to dismiss this concept that we hold as a bedrock of democracy and instead try to convince people that peer pressure at work or in the parking lot in front of your co workers to sign a card is somehow a more free choice. The publicity from the certain union abuses that will occur if this is passed will have a more devastating impact on labor unions then anything George Bush and his administration could have dreamed up. ( the forced binding arbitration rules are even worse but will not have the political traction of the ballot issue) Can you explain why even the well know, conservative, FoxNews loving, right wing former Senator George Mc Govern appears on television ads opposing this bill? Is Senator McGovern now to be described as anti-worker or anti-catholic? There may be a compromise opportunity here but your hyperbole won't help it happen.
8 years 8 months ago
Mr Winters writes, "If we help get EFCA passed we will have more leverage the next time a decision has to be made about life issues." I have a better idea: When all the democrats start voting for prolife and marriage protection legistation, I will than vote for IFCA. Seriously, does anyone think a vote for EFCA will strengthen the prolife cause in the democratic party?
8 years 8 months ago
Supporting returning rights to the worker, after a long Republican attack, is good on its own merits. It does not invalidate the secret ballot, it merely means that workers, rather than employers, decide on whether a secret ballot will be required - meaning that employers will no longer abuse organizers if there is an election. Such abuse is documented now - which is why this bill is coming up for a vote and will hopefully pass. You cannot, in good conscience, not support his bill just because you disagree with the Democratic position that it is no longer 1972. Abortion is not a legislative issue - and likely not a judicial issue either. Abortion is about fundraising and voter manipulation by Republicans and feminists - not about policy. Some Bishops use it as a litmus test for their own authority with their flocks and their flocks have provided a reasonable answer to their profound egotism.

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