Will Obama make the Employee Free Choice Act a reality?

Obama's election provides an opportunity for progressive labour law reform in the U.S.

Washington (10 Nov. 2008) - The election of Barack Obama as president is one of the few moments in recent years that organized labour in the United States has had something to cheer about.

Obama has promised to sign the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) if passed by the new Congress following his inauguration in January. The EFCA was introduced but not passed in the last Congress.

Today, with Democrats holding even stronger control of both the Senate and House of Representatives, hopes are high that the bill will pass when George Bush is finally gone from office.

If so, the EFCA would amend the National Labor Relations Act to force employers to recognize unions when 51% of workers sign union cards. Workplace elections, now often subject to employer manipulation, would not be necessary for certification.

Where at least 30% of workers sign cards, elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be mandatory. The act would also provide for injunctions to be issued where unfair labour practices occur during organizing efforts.

Labour and the Democrats

The bill was the top priority for the labour movement during the campaign. Unions spent an estimated $400 million supporting Democratic candidates at all levels on Nov. 4.

The EFCA would allow unions to demand that employers begin bargaining within 10 days after the union is certified. If no contract is reached within 90 days, either party could invoke mediation which, in turn, could result in binding arbitration after 30 days.

The act would also provide for damages of three times back pay where employers unlawfully terminate pro-union employees. As well, it would impose a $20,000 penalty on employers for each violation in cases where the NLRB or a court deems infractions to be willful or repetitive.

The EFCA would also repeal so-called  'right to work' restrictions imposed by states under the Taft-Hartley Act. These are laws that favour employers and frustrate unions by letting workers remain outside unions in otherwise closed-shop workplaces.

However, passage of the EFCA by the new congress is not guaranteed. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already mounting a ferocious campaign to kill it.

The business lobby group is arguing that the current economic climate (which it helped create by supporting now-discredited Republican policies) is no time to change the country's labour laws. The group is hoping that at least some new members of Congress, especially those from conservative states, will agree.

The result is that it will still take a continuing major lobbying effort by labour and other supporters of working people to make the EFCA a reality.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring that our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

Web posted by NUPGE: 10 November 2008