Stimulus Plan Pushes Employee Free Choice Act To Back Burner For Now

Congress has not given signs when it will debate the legislation concerning card check and labor unions.

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One issue noticeably absent from the early days of the Obama administration is the Employee Free Choice Act. There's been little mention of it as Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress have focused on selling the stimulus plan.

(For more on exactly what the Employee Free Choice Act is and why it matters for small businesses and entrepreneurs, refer to my pre-election article on the subject.)

A friend of mine who works full-time on this issue tells me that there might be a different, more important reason that the bill is being delayed: the Democrats need all the votes they can in support of the EFCA, but they have one that is currently in limbo. Al Franken, who seems likely to overcome the electoral difficulties in Minnesota and serve in the Senate, will almost certainly vote in favor of the bill. But the various legal issues surrounding the Minnesota election will likely delay Franken's arrival in Washington into the spring.

But supporters of the EFCA are saying the bill's passage is more necessary than ever. Labor-union advocacy group American Rights At Work sent out a press release today harking a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report that shows the union-member share of the workforce increasing in 2008. American Rights At Work says that "this data reveals... need for the Employee Free Choice Act" because it shows the importance of unions in a struggling economy.

Hmm, that's funny. I had always read from supporters that the reason we need the EFCA is because the number of union members in the US had been declining in recent decades, and the bill would reverse that trend. So if unions grow less powerful, we desperately need the EFCA.  If unions grow more powerful, we still desperately need it. Is there any scenario, in the minds of EFCA advocates, in which it would not be an urgent, pressing matter to pass the EFCA?

Chiming in on this debate recently is Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, who has a long post about the EFCA on his blog. Posner says that the trends causing the long-term decline of unions in this country are too powerful for the EFCA to reverse:

I doubt that the Act would have a great effect on unionization. Unions have been in steady decline in the private sector for decades and now account for only about 7 percent of nonfarm workers in that sector (farm workers are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act). Elaborate government regulation of workplace safety and health has reduced the value of unions to workers, as has greater job mobility and the increasingly technical and individualized character of many jobs, which makes it difficult for workers to agree on the terms and conditions of employment that they should be seeking. International competition has reduced the power of unions to extract supracompetitive wages, benefits, or work rules, as has the deregulation movement, which has made the formerly regulated industries, such as transportation, more competitive. Unions have little power in a competitive industry, because a supracompetitive wage, by increasing the employer's cost, will shift his output to competitors. We are seeing this happen in the automobile industry, where union intransigence has been a factor in the decline of the Detroit automakers, now on federal life support.

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