Saturday, October 25, 2008

Union, Si!

A quick link for the Employee Free Choice Act

I do not usually post quick links, but this is irresistible. I got an email from the union SEIU to sign a petition for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), but without much information. So naturally I went to an opposing site (EFCAexposed) to see what they had to say.

The interview they post on their front page is amazing- it plays into every stereotype of plutocracy. A bejoweled, bechinned, and bespoke lobbyist (CEO of the organization, Donald Wilson), seated in a wing-backed leather chair issues a call to arms to the "management community", exuding despair, victimization, and frank fear in face of the onrushing whirlwind that is the Obama presidency and Democratic gains in the Senate.

Crucially, he also lays out the provisions of the EFCA in a very articulate way, such that anyone can judge its merits. And I have to say, he convinced me that its merits are quite positive.

1. Allow unions to represent workers without an election if over 50% of location workers sign a union card.

2. Set a brutally efficient contract negotiation timeline, with 10 days warning, 90 days to negotiate, 30 days for federal mediation, and then off to binding arbitration, though the nature of this arbitration is unclear.

3. Add punitive damages for unfair labor practice penalties, to current compensation penalties.

4. (possible, not in the bill yet) Add prohibitions on strike-breaking.

As the man says, this would shift power from management to unions. But at the same time, the bill introduces new efficiencies in union elections, negotiations, and legal remediation that should also help business in some ways by reducing time and effort spent temporizing, stalling, and generally dicking around with unions, which is destructive to all sides.

After these decades of union decline, and concomitant disempowerment of the working class, it is time to right the ship, and it is clear that this act will be a significant corrective (assuming that arbitration is done impartially). Will increased unionization send more jobs overseas? Yes, but far fewer than it will improve here at home. A future focus on extending union rights in international trade agreements will help level this playing field as well. The overall point remains how best to remediate the imbalance of wealth in the US, which is caused by the natural operations of the free market (and also in part by the class warfare of the last eight plus years, where the wealthy have run Washington towards corruption and inequality). Making the tax code more progressive again, retaining and increasing the "death tax", increasing public stakes in services like health care and education, and helping unions are all effective routes to this end.

(See book on supercapitalism by Robert Reich).

Incidentally, similar arguments also revolve around immigration. The "management community" supports unlimited unskilled immigration, which naturally lowers prices in the unskilled labor market in the US. Employers all the way up the skill ladder are happy to increase their power vs labor by increasing labor supply through immigration, especially of immigrants who can be treated as serfs. Restoring balance in this power struggle involves limiting immigration to sustainable levels, enforcing workplace and wage laws for all US workers, mandating higher minimum wages, and again, encouraging other countries to raise their working standards through our trade deals with them. Oh, and it also means not destroying the rural economy of Mexico by dumping our subsidized corn on them.

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