Since both Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) announced their opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, a lot of debate has been centered on whether or not the bill has any chance of passing in the current Congress.
Obviously, counting votes is an important exercise, but lost in the brouhaha has been the justification for labor law reform. Fortunately, Mother Jones’ Josh Harkinson gave us a refresher course, courtesy of Whole Foods:
Shortly before the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the manager of a Whole Foods grocery store in the San Francisco Bay Area gathered his employees in a conference room for a chat about labor organizing. [...] According to a tape of the meeting obtained by Mother Jones, the manager went on to imply that joining a union would lead to reprisals: “It’s interesting to note that once you become represented by the union,” he said, “basically everything, every benefit you have, is kind of thrown out the window, and you renegotiate a contract.”
Essentially, the manager is implying that a legal decision to unionize would result in the company removing the workers’ benefits during contract negotiations. This is the sort of fearmongering that the Employee Free Choice Act is meant to address. And it’s by no means an isolated incident, as plenty of employers stall, delay, and intimidate workers during and after organizing drives. Consider:
- It took meat cutters at a Texas Wal-Mart nine years after they voted to form a union to begin negotiations with the company.
- Employees at a Rite-Aid drug warehouse in California voted more than one year ago to form a union, but Rite-Aid is trying to run out the clock so that it can “stop the pretense of negotiating” and then “try to undo” the workers’ vote.
- In December, Starbucks was found to have “illegally fired three baristas and otherwise violated federal labor laws in seeking to beat back unionization efforts at several of its Manhattan cafes.”
There is an undeniable need to repair a broken system for workers, both in forming a union and ensuring good faith negotiations with employers afterward. A few Senators backing down in the face of business pressure doesn’t change that.