State Businesses Ready To Fight Union-Friendly Laws
March 30, 2009
State and federal efforts to increase union participation have drawn the attention of many in Connecticut’s business community who fear increased costs and a loss of jobs.
Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including all five U.S. House members from Connecticut, have reintroduced the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a top legislative priority for unions because it would let workers opt for unionization simply by signing cards, rather than through secret-ballot elections.
Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering a similar bill that would apply only to state and municipal workers, and another that would ban employers from requiring workers to attend “captive audience” meetings, which they traditionally use to campaign against union formation.
Representatives from Connecticut’s business community say the proposed laws would have a negative impact on the state’s economy.
“These proposals would encourage virtually every workplace to become unionized,” said Kia Murrell, an attorney for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “That would ultimately drive up the costs of doing business and lead to fewer jobs.”
For a workplace to organize under current law, unions first must get at least 30 percent of the workers to sign cards stating they want to join a union. Once that occurs employers can voluntarily accept those cards and recognize the union or force workers to have a secret ballot election directed by the National Labord Relations Board.
The EFCA would prevent employers from forcing a secret ballot election and allow for union formation simply through the card-check process, if a majority of employees (50 percent plus one) sign them.
“In these difficult economic times it is more important than ever that American workers have a say in their job security, wages, retirement savings and health care,” said Rep. John Larson (D-1st District), the highest ranking Connecticut member of the House.
“The rights afforded to our workers in the Employee Free Choice Act will grow the American middle class and help the economy work for everyone again,” Larson added.
Paul Rapanault, director of legislative and political affairs for the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut, said the secret ballot election process gives employers a major advantage because it allows them to hold captive audience meetings which they use to lobby against union formation.
“It allows them to directly intimidate workers,” Rapanault said. “It’s not a level playing field.”
A bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Martin M. Looney, (D-New Haven), and which recently passed out of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, would prevent employers from requiring their workers to attend such a meeting.
John Olsen, president of Connecticut AFL-CIO, said the current system is also flawed because employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, giving them more time to convince workers they shouldn’t join a union.
He also said that there is little recourse against employers who try to intimidate workers “other than forcing them to post a sign that says they won’t do it again.”
Businesses argue that removing a secret ballot from elections is dangerous because it isolates them from the process and makes workers subject to intimidation by unions, since card checks are often done in public.
“It seeks to increase union membership without showing that the current process is flawed,” Murrell added. “It would be like turning 100 years of tradition on its head.”
Andy Markowski, Connecticut director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the passage of these laws would likely hit small-to-mid size businesses the most, including construction, electrical and plumbing companies.
Bernard Jacques, a labor lawyer and partner at Pepe & Hazard in Hartford, said Connecticut’s extensive financial services industry would also likely be a major target for unionization.
“Unions have their eye on that industry,” Jacques said. “Given the problems financial services workers are facing in terms of job cuts, caps on pay and pay freezes it could make them want to band together.”
Other industries that are potentially ripe for unionization in Connecticut include health care and biotech, experts said.
“I think there is a misconception that large businesses will be targeted,” Markowski said. “But many of the large companies have dealt with unionization attempts in the past so they know how to handle it. Smaller businesses haven’t had to deal with this before.”
One of the biggest concerns for Markowski is a provision of the EFCA that allows an arbitration panel to hand down a binding collective bargaining agreement if the two sides can’t agree on a contract within 90 to 120 days.
“It should be up to business owners to decide how much they can pay employees,” Markowski said.