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Rep. Courtney Speaks Out on the Employee Free Choice Act and the Foxwoods/UAW Election

Posted in Labor Law & NRLB, Legislative Developments

One of the bills in Congress this year that is expected to be heavily debated is the Employee Free Choice Act

What is it? Workplace Horizons has this take on it: "The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800; S. 1041) would amend the National Labor Relations Act to make it significantly easier for unions to organize employees, to require binding arbitration of first contracts after 120 days, and to stiffen penalties for certain unfair labor practices."

The AFL-CIO has an alternative take on it: "The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800, S. 1041), supported by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, would level the playing field for workers and employers and help rebuild America’s middle class. It would restore workers’ freedom to choose a union by: Establishing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations; Providing mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes; Allowing employees to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation."

Obviously, how you feel about the proposal depends on whether you think the current system of union elections is broken.

One Connecticut Congressman, Joe Courtney, spoke this morning with the My Left Nutmeg blog with his thoughts on it. During a very interesting and insightful interview with Ken Krayeske, he voiced his strong support for the bill.

The Employee Free Choice Act is critical to make sure people can organize without recourse. It was one of my first speeches on the House floor. …

If you go back to NLRA [the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1937], a card check was supposed to be the method towards getting union recognition. It was down the road that employers were given the option of requesting an election, moderated by the NLRB.

The law we voted on in the House would say that a union would be recognized with a majority of signature cards signed by members of the bargaining unit. If even a third, thirty-three percent,  The law changed so that employers don’t have the opportunity to mandate an election. Otherwise, these hired guns, consultants come in where there is strong support for union with cards, and they end up turning the election in to a long drawn out process that defeats the election.

Rep. Courtney — who represents District 2, which includes many towns in Eastern Connecticut including where the casinos are located — had particularly strong words about the Foxwoods election.  As readers of this blog will recall, there has also been a heated battle going on with a union election at Foxwoods, including a multi-day hearing that we’ve covered here in many posts

The Foxwoods case is classic as to why this needs to pass. The UAW won that vote 60-40, with a healthy margin.

Then management is coming in there with a big hired gun [in front of the National Labor Relations Board].  They put on days of testimony about what the ballot said, "Do you support this union?"

Management was bringing in employees who claimed they couldn’t read it, and said they had difficulties with the language.. The testimony was comical. The translators that management brought in were at the hearing. Inadvertently, someone would ask a question in English, and they would answer it before the translators could.

These were all card dealers, of course they understand English. But it is a textbook example of how they abuse the system to delay union victories. If you get unions to get the cards, we don’t have to go through these hearings.

Rep. Courtney is a decent fellow and, by all accounts, is doing well representing a difficult district..  But is Rep. Courtney referring to the lawyers who defended Foxwoods as mere "hired guns" that ought to be criticized for defending their clients?

If that’s the implication — and its a bit unclear from the statement — that seems particularly harsh and unnecessary.  Whatever one thinks about Foxwoods (and if you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 opinions), it’s unfair to challenge the attorneys merely for representing their client.  Our system of justice demands that each party — no matter how disliked — be given a full and fair opportunity.  Foxwoods should be no exception.

Moreover, it’s not like the Foxwoods’ appeal on the language issue was frivolous.  Indeed here, even the Hearing Officer stated that he would’ve handled the election differently and translated the ballots at issue.  Given the high burden of proof necessary to overturn an election, it’s probably not enough to carry the day but we’ll have to wait a few more weeks until the decision on the election is issued.

In the meantime, Rep. Courtney is obviously willing to keep pushing the Employee Free Choice Act.  How far will that battle take him? We’ll just have to wait to find out.  However, even he suggests some excitement ahead: "The Card Check Act, that is the battle to be watching."

(H/T My Left Nutmeg)

  • Jon Kantrowitz

    Posted in part and linked as a comment on MLN.