Past Event

I’m Union. Aren’t You?

Charles Gilyard of Chicago Jobs with Justice will be speaking at this event.

Labor unions have a long and complicated history in the United States. The first local labor unions of men in the U.S. formed in the late 18th century, and women began organizing in the 1820s. Legally recognized as representatives of workers in many industries, labor unions serve to formulate collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and working conditions for their members and on representing their members in conflicts with management.

But some are beginning to feel that the current U.S. labor law mandating how unions are formed is outdated and not in the best interest of workers. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), now pending legislation, seeks to establish what many deem an easier system for employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations. 

As it currently stands, 30% of employees must sign cards to bring the question of unionization to a vote. Once this occurs, secret ballots are cast and if the majority of votes favor the union, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will certify the union. If enacted, EFCA would give workers the right to unionize immediately after the majority of workplace employees sign cards saying they want a union. This change in legislation, many argue, decreases the amount of time employers have to run anti-union and intimidation campaigns thus making the system more democratic.

Labor organizers, activists, and workers alike are insisting that EFCA is necessary for ensuring their rights, especially amidst economic turmoil. According to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council, a union whose mission is to be a leading voice for working families in the state of Illinois: "Working people are struggling to get by, and America’s middle class is disappearing. But when workers try to form unions and bargain for a better life, corporations use coercion and harassment to stop them. The Employee Free Choice Act would restore workers’ freedom to decide for themselves – without employer intimidation – whether to form unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and a voice on the job."

But opponents to the bill say that America’s economic crisis makes this bad timing for such dramatic change. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) opposes the bill because, "The problems of a recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employee’s choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses. If efforts are unsuccessful to give labor sufficient bargaining power through amendments to the [National Labor Relations Act] then I would be willing to reconsider Employees choice legislation when the economy returns to normalcy."

Should union legislation and labor law reform be contingent on a healthy and thriving economy? Do you think unions help or support workers during an economic crisis? Do we need to be paying more attention to how unions are organized? What are the implications of unionizing without a formalized vote? Do you think this act will make positive changes in workers rights? In the midst of major layoffs and corporate scandals, should Americans be paying more attention to these kinds of bills? How can unions help revitalize the economy? Have you ever been in a union and, if so, what was your experience? 

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For more information, call 312.422.5580.