Framing EFCA: Who Has A Choice?

Now that conservative Alaska Rep. Don Young has spilled the beans on the right-wing lie about the Employee Free Choice Act (hint: it doesn’t take away the secret ballot), it’s worth looking at the horrendous job that Democrats and other EFCA supporters have done selling this legislation.

Last fall, when EFCA first became a major subject of conversation, I was having dinner with a group of very politically-minded liberals at a local candidate’s home. Once talk turned to EFCA, I was surprised to hear several people say that they didn’t like the idea of taking away a vote, and couldn’t support the legislation.

The problem isn’t just the right-wing framing of the issue (as taking away the secret ballot), even though it has been internalized and disseminated by many on the left. The problem is also clarity – I’ve heard union organizers deliver passionate speeches about the challenges an election faces, about how the elections are often unfair, the ballots being cast are anything but secret, and so on. Not only is this buying into the frame, it doesn’t address the basic issue. I’ve never heard anyone give a simple answer that actually addresses what the EFCA legislation does. The unnecessary difficulties in forming a union? That’s a background issue – it’s context. The failure of the NLRB to enforce the law? That’s an ancillary issue – important, and obviously connected, but not the same thing.

The key word – and the key to framing this issue properly – is choice. More specifically, who has the choice? Under current law, management gets to choose how the workers will get to form a union. They, almost inevitably, choose the path that takes longest, is most expensive, and gives them the most opportunity to bend the outcome in their favor.

EFCA restores the choice to the workers who are deciding whether to form a union. The workers get to decide how to go about it, and then whether to form a union. If we want to protect the “secret” ballot elections, then we should get serious about having the NLRB enforce the laws against intimidation. We should stop companies from stalling for years before a vote can be reached. In fact, EFCA starts us down that road. But the first step has to be restoring the power of choice to the workers.