BusinessWeek has a debate today on the Employee Free Choice Act, which is up for consideration before Congress. I’m against based on the very little information I know. Essentially, the pro and con between Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus provides the bulk of my knowledge. If Rep. Miller’s rhetoric sufficiently corresponds to what the Act would do, I’m against it because Rep. Miller demonstrates that he only recognizes rights that are convenient for his partisanship.
(Note: I’m not advocating the opposite of his view. Rather, I believe the relationship between employers and employees must be voluntary and mutual. I am not qualified to set all rules for all exchanges. No one is.)
To Rep. Miller’s essay:
Unfortunately, in recent years, the middle-class life has become increasingly difficult to maintain. Workers’ wages have stagnated as the cost of everything from milk to college tuition has skyrocketed. The staples of a middle-class life—a fair wage, access to health care, a sound retirement—are getting squeezed. The percentage of national income going to workers’ wages is at its lowest level since 1929, while the percentage of our nation’s wealth going to corporate profits is at its highest since the 1940s.
I’m a skeptic; I want data where Rep. Miller provides anecdote. He’s a politician, so I never expect to see it. But, for fun, I’ll assume he’s telling the truth. If “national” income is now being directed to corporate profits rather than to workers, then workers should become investors. They will claim “their” share of the “national” income.
The Employee Free Choice Act would fix this broken system so workers can freely exercise their right to organize. It would do three things. First, it would allow workers to use a majority sign-up process to form their union, without their employer vetoing that choice. Second, it would increase penalties on employers who violate workers’ rights. Third, it would ensure that, once workers form a union, collective bargaining leads to a first contract—not delay and more union busting.
Focusing on point two: what penalties do we have on employees who violate employers’ rights? (I refuse to concede Rep. Miller’s ridiculous use of employer/worker rather than the objective employer/employee.) To demonstrate what I mean by this, Rep. Miller later writes this:
If these advantages aren’t enough, an employer can fire a pro-union worker to make its point, or threaten to close the business down if workers vote the wrong way, without facing more than a slap on the wrist. At the end of this process, the NLRB holds an election on the employer’s premises.
Employees have rights, but employers do not. At least, they do not have the right to shut down their business if one of the inputs (labor) is not to their liking. That’s absurd. Rights belong to the individual, not groups. But if they applied to groups, all groups would have rights, not just the groups who agree with us. Starting a business is not an agreement to perpetuate the business beyond the owner’s desire to continue it. The Employee Free Choice Act seems to suggest that the ultimate decision in running a business – whether or not to continue – becomes the sole discretion of employees. This is a blatant violation of one individual’s rights to satisfy another’s (claimed) rights.
This is not any democracy that most Americans would recognize as such. Yet this is the system that opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act want to preserve. Another process exists. If an employer allows it, as some major companies already do, workers can avoid the conflict-ridden NLRB process and form a union by signing cards, the same way you might form a civic association. When a majority has signed up, the employer recognizes the union.
Unfortunately, current law allows employers to veto the use of this freer majority sign-up process—and they do. The Employee Free Choice Act would simply take this veto power away from the employer and restore the democratic principle of free choice to the workplace.
The right for an employer to determine that she will employ individuals on the condition that they deal with them individually rather than collectively – the employer’s freedom of (voluntary) association – is subject to the whim of the majority. Remember that potential and current employees for any organization can always refuse to continue providing their services. If the employer is unable to find enough people willing to agree to her terms, she will either offer better terms or go out of business. This is the freedom of association perpetuated by natural incentives for cooperation that need no encouragement from government. Rep. Miller’s advocacy for the Employee Free Choice Act shows his misunderstanding of the American concept of individual rights.