Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Historians for EFCA

(via Dissent magazine) The following is a letter sent by a large number of prominent historians, to Congress petitioning for the passage of the EFCA. It was sent on March 10th. (Also, check out this recent article in Dissent in favor of the EFCA (i.e. against company-run elections)).

To the Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned historians, feel a special obligation to speak out on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act. In our courses, we describe how freedom of association became a prized American right and how, for working people, freedom of association became a reality when the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 granted them a protected right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. Students know this. It’s in the New Deal chapter of every textbook. So for them, it comes as a shock to discover when they enter the working world that they don’t dare exercise the rights the law says they have. And it’s up to us, as historians, to explain why they have been so badly let down.

The labor law, although amended and interpreted over many years, is still conditioned by a grand bargain made in 1935: the state would rule with a light hand if employers complied in good faith. That bargain once worked reasonably well, but no longer. In recent years, employers have taken to fighting the law at every turn. They have, in effect, withdrawn their consent, and it is no longer true that workers can exercise the rights the law says they have. NLRB elections have fallen by half in the past decade, and only a trickle of workers—about 30,000 in 2007—now gain collective bargaining through NLRB certification. The law is grinding to a halt. And, what is equally bad, we have a major act on the books that dishonors the rule of law in this country.

The remedies, however, are easily within reach. First: increase the penalties on employers who commit unfair labor practices and provide swift injunctive relief for victimized workers. Second: make employers who flout their duty to bargain (which they do, successfully, in nearly half of all first-contract negotiations) subject to a mediation/arbitration process. Third: enable workers to demonstrate their support for collective bargaining by signing authorization cards and thereby insulate them from the employer coercion that accompanies—and is given a platform by—the representation election.

These three provisions constitute the Employee Free Choice Act. It is legislation that deserves the support of every Senator and Representative who believes in the purposes of our labor law, which are, as it said 1935 and still says today, to protect “the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”

We quote these words to our students. We’d like to believe they have meaning today. So we, the undersigned historians, support the Employee Free Choice Act and urge Congress to pass it this session.

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