Six Months After Voting To Form A Union, Smithfield Workers Still Without A Contract

Our guest blogger is Josh Rosenthal, Special Assistant to the External Affairs Department at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

smithfield.jpgAs Congressional leaders work to determine the final details of the Employee Free Choice Act, workers in Tar Heel, North Carolina continue to learn firsthand why the legislation is so important.

Yesterday, the Fayettesville Observer reported that six months after successfully voting to join a union, workers still do not have a first contract at a Smithfield Packing Co. plant. Smithfield’s stalling is par for the course, after the company spent fifteen years using harsh employer intimidation (including forcing an employee to stamp “Vote No” on dead hogs) to prevent a union from forming. A study by John-Paul Ferguson of MIT illustrates just how common this situation is:

Even after a majority votes for a union, many units fail to get a contract. Only 56 percent of units in which a majority of employees voted for a union and were certified for bargaining by the NLRB were successful in reaching a first contract. Only 38 percent of such units reached a contract within one year.

The Employee Free Choice Act would stop Smithfield’s delay tactics, by allowing either unions or employers to bring in federal mediators if contracts stall out after 90 days. Thirty days after that, an arbitrator would be brought in to work through any final hurdles. After months of lies about the majority sign-up aspect of the bill, conservatives have begun to turn their sights on binding arbitration. The Wall Street Journal calls it “federal wage setting” and fearmongers about the influence of “political, er, incentives.”

Unsurprisingly, the Wall Street Journal’s fears are unfounded. As arbitration experts Thomas Kochan and Arnold Zack explain, “arbitrators would have to meet the standards of experience, expertise and mutual credibility and acceptability by business and labor leaders,” and employers would help choose the arbitrator.

The Wall Street Journal’s lies can’t overcome what the Smithfield workers have learned first hand. America needs labor law reform that creates a path to a first contract, along with a fair process of joining a union and tough penalties for lawbreakers.