The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would have made it easier to organize workers who want to be union members, is fast becoming a dim memory, with little chance of even being considered this year.
If it isn’t passed this year, odds are that EFCA will never become law, and major labor law revisions, which would add some balance to labor-management relations, will not be achieved in your lifetime.
Our federal labor laws have been revised only twice since the Wagner Act, the first comprehensive federal labor law, was passed in 1935, as the Great Depression was winding down. The two revisions since, the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and the Landrum-Griffin Act in 1957, gave huge advantages to employers.
Even when Democrats controlled either both the U.S. House and the Senate, or the White House and both houses of Congress, as they do now, they were unable to achieve passage of any major labor law revisions. Defeats always came when key Democrats voted against the best interests of working families.
During the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s, labor worked diligently to repeal Section 14b of the Taft-Hartley Law. Section 14b allows states to pass right-to-work laws, onerous measures that prohibit labor and management from negotiating an all-union shop. Such laws exert downward pressure on workers’ wages and benefits. Wage earners in right-to-work states earn $5,333 less per year than workers in other states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The U.S. House of Representatives finally passed a bill in 1965 by a vote of 283 to 221 to repeal 14b. Unfortunately, supporters in the Senate couldn’t break a Republican-sponsored filibuster, which would not have succeeded without the votes of 22 Democratic senators, and the issue was lost.
In 1976, President Jerry Ford vetoed a “common situs picketing bill” that would have lowered the barriers for unionization of construction workers. The bill was introduced again in 1977, but was voted down in the House 217 to 205 with many Democratic representatives voting against the proposal.
Organized labor was KO’d again during the administration of Jimmy Carter when a labor law reform bill, which would have leveled the playing field between labor and management during union organizing campaigns, was defeated. It failed to survive another Republican filibuster, which was bolstered when 17 Democrats vote with the Republican against cloture.
During Bill Clinton’s first term, an “anti-scab bill” was introduced that would have made it illegal for strikebound employers to permanently replace striking workers. It passed in the House but was blocked in the Senate by the usual Republican filibuster, in which six Democrats voted with the GOP to ensure defeat of the bill.
So while Democrats, for the most part, have been passively supportive of labor’s issues, they have refused over the years to provide enough votes to pass legislation that would have been the most meaningful to working families.
Instead, they have provided Republicans with key votes to pass tax breaks for corporations and millionaires. They have helped the GOP give tax incentives and loopholes to all manner of businesses, even those, in some cases, that move manufacturing plants out of the country. Democrats have voted for huge government contracts with corrupt military contractors, such as Blackwater and Haliburton. Over the years they have cast many votes that have helped Republicans pass legislation that has hurt working men and women.
Moreover, Democrats have often aided and abetted GOP union busters. Two Democratic votes recently prevented the confirmation of labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. When George Bush was president, he loaded up the NLRB with corporate types who seldom, if ever, sided with labor in disputes before the board. In addition, political apathy has allowed employers to circumvent out-of-date federal labor laws for at least 30 years.
Meanwhile, the wages and benefits of most workers have not kept pace with the growth of their productivity since 1980. For the first time on record, the real incomes of middle-class families actually declined from 2001 to 2007. More than one-third of all income growth since 1989 has gone to the top one-tenth of one percent of all earners, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Workers are not getting a fair share of the wealth they helped create.
And, they’ll never get a fair share as long as Congress refuses to deal with issues like the Employee Free Choice Act, which would be the first revision ever of our nation’s labor laws to right a longstanding wrong.