Consumer groups demand Congress pass Employee Free Choice Act

WASHINGTON (PAI)--Saying it would help consumers, help stop predatory lenders and “ensure workers’ hard-earned wages go to supporting their families and communities,” seven leading consumer organizations demanded the new Democratic-run 111th Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Not only would the law help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing drives and obtaining first contracts, the groups told lawmakers, but it would also help restore wages, health care and the middle class.

The groups, led by the National Consumers League – an ally of workers and their causes for over a century – sent their letter in mid-December to incoming legislators. The new Congress, convening Jan. 6, has expanded pro-worker majorities in the House and the Senate.

But Republicans and their business backers, who are dead set against the Employee Free Choice Act, will have at least 41 GOP senators. That’s enough to keep a filibuster going against the bill, killing it, if each of those Republicans votes to do so.

The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have already launched a vicious anti-union campaign trying to stop the law. They plan to spend tens of millions of dollars for disinformation, pressure, advertising and lobbying.

The Chamber’s top lobbyist calls the battle over the Employee Free Choice Act “Armageddon” for business and its right wing allies.

Unions are countering with a campaign of ground troops, mobilizing members in 16 key states which are home to “swing” senators and representatives. They’re also enlisting allies among consumer, religious, civil rights and community organizations.

The consumer groups wrote lawmakers it is in their interest to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, for suffering constituents, and against any filibuster.

“Corporate greed, mass foreclosures, insurmountable consumer debt, high un-employment rates, and the other symptoms of our economic crisis made for a culture of insecurity for both consumers and workers. It is essential to make connections between consumers and workers, especially in this economic downturn. It is in the interest of consumers to rebuild the middle class in America, and the Employee Free Choice Act is a good start,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg, the letter’s author.

The seven groups told lawmakers that “interests of consumers and employees are closely intertwined and that when the standard of living of workers and consumers improves, entire communities are lifted up…The fact that so many homeowners are facing foreclosure can be tied, in part, to their lack of access to decent wages and health care benefits.” Passage of the law would help right that, the groups added.

“Workers need strong voices in Congress to represent their interest as consumers. We need to reinvest and rebuild the middle class by passing legislation that will strengthen consumer protections, stop predatory lending practices, provide remedies and ensure that workers’ hard-earned wages go to supporting their families and communities,” their letter stated.

“The Employee Free Choice Act will restore the right of workers to join together to get better health care, job security, and benefits – and an opportunity to pursue their dreams. We firmly believe the Employee Free Choice Act is good for consumers, for workers, and for American society. When workers – who are also consumers -- enjoy the benefits of a unionized workforce, their standard of living rises,” the consumer groups explained.

The consumer groups added a key business argument against the law, that it would deny a secret-ballot election (“the right to vote”) for or against unionizing, is a lie.

The law “gives workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up,” they said. It would order the employer to recognize the union when a majority of workers sign union election authorization cards. Now, the consumer groups added, employers can refuse to recognize the union even if 100 percent of workers sign the cards. “Under the current system, then, the employer gets to decide whether a separate election is necessary,” their letter said.

Unions make the point that workers can still choose to have the National Labor Relations Board run a recognition election in their workplace, under both present law and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The groups also told lawmakers the proposed law would help workers, once their union is recognized, get a contract “in a reasonable period of time,” by mandating binding arbitration if the two sides can’t agree within 120 days of starting talks.

“Under current law, anti-union employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, withholding relevant information, and putting forth bogus proposals. Even though these tactics are illegal, there are no effective deterrents,” they said.

And they noted the law toughens penalties against labor law-breakers. “Too many unscrupulous employers get away with breaking labor laws because the current penalties are too weak,” the consumer groups said.

“The current crisis in our financial markets shows what happens when corporate greed is allowed to go unchecked -- and consumers and workers unfortunately pay the price. The Employee Free Choice Act will help level the playing field for America’s workers by giving them a fair and direct path to form unions,” they concluded.

Besides the National Consumers League, the other groups signing the letter were the National Association of Consumer Advocates, Public Citizen, Consumer Action, Consumer Auto Reliability and Safety, the Alliance for Justice, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).