- Why the Employee Free Choice Act Deserves Support:Response to Adams
As Roy Adams correctly notes, the workplace rights crisis in the United States is so dire that it demands urgent attention from every thinking person who cares about democracy, human rights, and social and economic justice. Of the sixty million nonunion workers who tell pollsters that they want a union in their workplace, last year fewer than seventy thousand—a proportion so small as to be almost insignificant—succeeded in forming one via the NLRB process.
Of these, many will never attain an initial collective bargaining agreement and fewer still will forge an enduring collective bargaining relationship with their employer. Most of this heroic handful, furthermore, was forced to run a gauntlet of employer tactics that even Rosa Parks would have found daunting. In at least a quarter of these NLRB organizing campaigns, one or more of the union supporters was illegally fired, and in more than half, the workers faced direct or thinly veiled threats that their workplace would close or move if they formed a union (Bronfenbrenner 2000; Mehta and Theodore 2005). Illegal firings and threats of workplace closure, moreover, were just the tip of the iceberg of the employer campaigns that these workers were forced to endure (Logan 2002). As AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff puts it, exercising your fundamental human right to form a union in your workplace should not require the heroism of a Rosa Parks.
Many more workers than that tiny few did form unions and win initial contracts last year, but they did it in spite of the Board's stacked-deck process by circumventing it via successful campaigns for card check and employer neutrality. They did it, in a nutshell, by finding ways to back off the employer interference that Roy accurately notes is both pervasive and devastating to the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain collectively in the United States.
Employer interference, Roy further correctly notes, is deeply rooted in a widespread—indeed dominant and largely unchallenged—managerial ideology that views the maintenance of "union-free" workplaces as one of the top [End Page 15] priorities of corporate human resource policy. This goal of keeping workplaces "union free" is no more ethical or justified in human rights terms than keeping workplaces "free" of women, people of color, or gays—and yet in 2006, here in the most powerful nation on earth, the most naked anti-union bigotry is still perfectly legal, socially acceptable, and widely and shamelessly practiced by many if not most of the largest and most successful corporations—including many European and Japanese-based corporations that would never dream of behaving this way on their home turf.
Of course a number of major corporations such as Cingular Wireless have partnerships with unions that include respect for workers' organizing rights; these partnerships can even be central to the employer's business plan and can confer significant competitive advantages. In the United States, however, corporations that voluntarily respect workers' organizing rights are a distinct minority.
Roy is absolutely correct that the dominant U.S. managerial "union-free" ideology must be challenged, overturned, and replaced by a worldview in which near-universal collective bargaining is seen as the norm. The United States is paying a high price for its dismal failure in this regard—not only economically, but socially and politically as well, and the price tag is getting higher by the year (AFL-CIO 2005). Space prohibits a full enumeration, but a partial list includes an ever-widening chasm between productivity and wages, a tenfold increase in the ratio of CEO compensation to the pay of average workers in less than a generation, rising poverty amid unprecedented affluence, and increased inequality in the distribution of income and wealth to degrees not witnessed since the Roaring Twenties: forty-six million Americans without health insurance, a pension crisis that is seriously eroding retirement income security, the worst attack on the nation's social safety net since that safety net first began to be woven during the New Deal, assaults on and rollbacks of public education, needless deaths of coal miners and other workers in hazardous occupations...