WASHINGTON – Democrats rewarded organized labor Thursday for helping them retake control of Congress, passing a House bill that would make it easier to start unions against companies’ wishes.
The legislation, passed 241-185 on a nearly party-line vote, would take away the right of employers to demand secret-ballot elections by workers before unions could be recognized
“It’s simply about establishing fairness in the workplace,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said the real issue was “taking care of union bosses.”
The House action was the second triumph for labor following the Democratic takeover of Congress. The House and Senate also have voted on separate bills to raise the minimum wage.
Labor groups saw the Employee Free Choice Act as one way of halting the downward trend of union membership, now about 12 percent of the work force.
The celebrations may be short-lived. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to block the bill and the White House says President Bush will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
The House vote was short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to overturn a veto. Thirteen Republicans voted for the measure; two Democrats voted against it.
Labor groups contend that secret-ballot elections have become a means for employers to intimidate workers into rejecting unions.
“In the past few decades, labor law has been so twisted by corporations and their union-busting hired guns that it is now virtually impossible to form a union against an employer’s wishes,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
The legislation, also called the card check bill, would certify a union as soon as a majority of workers at a plant signed cards authorizing it. Currently, employers can require elections, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, on whether a union should be recognized.
The labor rights group American Rights at Work said that, in the run-up to such elections, 80 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants and 90 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.
The legislation would toughen penalties against employers who violate worker rights during organizing drives and set up a binding arbitration process to prevent companies from thwarting a new union by bargaining in bad faith on an initial contract.