Employee Free Choice Act: What You Need To Know
From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
April 2009 Edition
The Employee Free Choice Act will be debated in Washington, D.C. in the next year. This bill will make it easier for you to have a voice in your workplace to improve your working conditions and to advocate for your patients. Here’s what you need to know about how the Employee Free Choice Act could affect you and your practice.
What happens when nurses decide they want to unionize?
Right now, when employees attempt to unionize—or “organize” as it is known in the labor movement—employers frequently engage in aggressive anti-union campaigns. In over 90 percent of organizing drives employees are forced into one-on-one meetings with managers who provide a one-sided, usually inaccurate and often intimidating take on what unionization would mean. In over half of workplaces employers resort to illegal coercion, and in a quarter of organizing drives an employee is illegally fired. The Employee Free Choice Act is designed to replace this unfair, employer-dominated system with a system that truly gives workers a free choice. Here’s how:
Organizing: it’s the employees’ choice, not the employer’s
- Once the workers have collected enough cards, the employer then chooses to agree to the election or not. Employers often engage in lengthy appeals to draw out the process and use the tactics mentioned above to sap union support before a long delayed vote.
If the Employee Free Choice Act passes
- The Employee Free Choice Act puts the decision over whether to have an election into the hands of the workers. The workers sign cards and can indicate if they would like to join a union through an election or through majority sign-up. Majority Sign-Up gives the workers the union they want once a majority of workers have signed a card indicating their preference for the union.
Enhanced penalties for illegal conduct by employers
Current system: a slap on the wrist
- When an employer is convicted of illegally firing an employee, the employer must only pay back lost wages minus what the worker has earned at another job while waiting for reinstatement.
- When an employer is convicted of illegally coercing employees it must only post a notice saying it will not do so again in the future.
- But if employee free choice passes: real penalties for illegal conduct
- Employers would have to pay victims of illegal firings three times the amount of back pay owed to them.
- Employers would be fined up to $20,000 for illegal acts committed during organizing or first contract campaigns.
Negotiating: a real path to a first contract
- Despite the current uneven playing field and all of the illegal/unethical tactics employers may use during an organizing drive, many workers still vote to join a union. But even then employers do not always stop their anti-union campaigns. Some will choose to simply not recognize the union while others will use lengthy appeals processes to delay negotiations.
But if the Employee Free Choice Act passes:
- Either employers or employees can request mediation if they are unable to negotiate a first contract after 90 days of bargaining. If a contract is not reached within 30 days after mediation, the dispute goes to binding arbitration. This guarantees workers achieve a first contract within a reasonable period of time.
Why nurses need a union
- A union gives registered nurses a voice in their workplace to advocate for better wages and benefits.
- Unionized workers earn 28 percent higher wages on average than their non-union counterparts. In Massachusetts this equates to an average of $8,900 more per year.
- Unionized workers are 62 percent more likely to have health insurance benefits and 386 percent more likely to have guaranteed pensions.
- A union gives registered nurses a voice in their workplace to advocate for better working conditions and to improve the quality of patient care.
- A study comparing union and non-union hospitals in California found that hospitals with RN unions had 5.7 percent lower mortality rates for acute myocardial infarctions after accounting for other variables.
- Unionized RNs are better able to advocate for language to ensure better patient care.
- A union gives registered nurses a voice in the state and in Washington D.C.
- RNs can collectively advocate for legislation that would improve the quality of patient care, lobby for increased funding for important health programs that are dependent on state and federal monies, and fight legislation that would erode your ability to keep your patients safe.
- RNs from the MNA are often asked to provide testimony on important health care issues being deliberated by the commonwealth’s elected officials.
What can you do to help?
- Make a phone call! Although our entire congressional delegation has signed onto support the Employee Free Choice Act, we need to encourage them to continue championing this cause.
- Speak to friends and relatives from other states about this bill and ask them to call their elected officials.