The misleading attacks by Big Business on the Employee Free Choice Act now are aimed at the provision that would guarantee that workers can get a fair first contract. Their scare tactics are not only misleading, they’re hypocritical.
Right now, workers lack a legal means to ensure they get a fair first contract. Recent research shows that even after workers successfully win a union and the ability to bargain, they’re too often blocked from getting a fair first contract. Fifty-two percent of workers don’t have a contract a full year after the election, and 37 percent don’t have a first contract two years after the election. For too many workers, the promise of the freedom to bargain is out of reach because the law doesn’t offer them any help.
The Employee Free Choice Act provides a process to help first-time bargainers to reach an agreement, through mediation and, for issues the parties are unable to resolve on their own, arbitration. The reason we need first-contract arbitration is to create an incentive for companies to bargain voluntarily with their workers.
According to research from American Rights at Work, the record of first-contract arbitration provisions in the public sector and in Canada show that disputes rarely reach the arbitration stage; in most cases, the process works to help workers and their employers reach a contract on their own.
Yet corporations are increasing their negative attacks on this provision even though they frequently require consumers to commit to arbitration.
Supporters of the freedom to form unions are hitting this corporate disinformation campaign directly, in the field, online and in the press. American Rights at Work is taking on corporate hypocrisy with a new print ad running today in key newspapers. The ad demonstrates how corporations are attacking the idea of arbitration when it involves their employees—while supporting arbitration in a variety of areas where it benefits them.
As the new ad notes, corporations prefer to use arbitration in consumer disputes, personal injury claims, home construction contracts, nursing home injuries and conflicts related to real estate, credit cards and banking.
Business trade groups even wrote to Congress last year saying arbitration is an “efficient, effective” way to resolve disputes, reported The New York Times, and companies put arbitration provisions into 75 percent of consumer contracts.
So, if corporations want to require arbitration in so many other instances, why are they so afraid of the possibility of arbitration—only after months of negotiations—over a first contract for their employees?
About the Author: Seth Michaels is the coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s presidential candidate website, Working Families Vote 2008. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Seth spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe—but the battles of U.S. politics are even more entertaining.
This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Blog on June 11, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.