Labor Union Majority Signup Approved in OR & NH -- And States Demand the US Senate Follows Suit


This week, the Oregon Senate voted to strengthen the freedom of state public employees to form unions, joining the Oregon House in approving a bill, HB 2891, to simplify the organizing proces by having the state government recognize a union for any set of workers where a majority of them have signed cards to ask for a union.

Such "majority signup" rules prevent delaying tactics and potential harassment by supervisors, making "majority signup" critical to protecting labor rights. As Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney says:

The right to organize played a critical role in building our middle class. If a majority of employees want to form a union, Oregon will respect that choice. It’s just common sense.

Oregon joins the New Hampshire legislature, which approved a similar law earlier this month, and joins states like New York, California, Illinois and New Mexico which already support majority signup procedures for some or all of their public employees.

These majority signup rules are similar to those included in the proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would extend that protection to private sector employees. Private sector workers face even more intense anti-union harassment. With over 20,000 American workers illegally fired or disciplined each year for demanding their rights at work, many state legislatures have been demanding that the federal government allow the majority signup among private employers, just as many states allow it for their government workers.

How Federal Labor Law Forces States to Hire Unionbusters: States have another direct reason to support changes in federal law. Almost unbelievably, federal law requires states to hand out government contracts and economic development money to union-busting firms, no matter how many times those firms have illegally violated the rights of their employees. Since a company caught illegally firing an employee is only required under federal to restore lost pay to the worker, with few additional penalties for lawbreaking companies, such serial labor violations are all too common.

Decades ago, states had passed laws reserving government contracts for law-abiding firms, but a 1986 Supreme Court decision called Wisconsin Dept. of Industry v. Gould struck down a 1979 Wisconsin law which had denied state funds to companies breaking federal labor law three times within a five year period. The Supreme Court declared that however weak the punishment for illegal behavior was under federal labor law, those punishments were the maximum allowed and states could not screen out such companies from government contracts. Companies can therefore cut their costs by illegally violating their employees' rights and get an unfair advantage in bidding against law-abiding firms-- and states have to look the other way and hand over government funds to such union-busting firms.

Taking Action: The Employee Free Choice Act, by both streamlining union recognition and putting real teeth in labor law enforcement with additional penalties for illegal actions, is therefore the only way for states to gain assurance that businesses violating labor laws won't get a free ride in bidding for public contracts. The U.S. House of Representatives has already voted to support EFCA and the Senate will be voting on the bill next week. The workers' rights organization American Rights At Work has established a site where you can let your United States Senator know how important it is to protect the freedom to form unions.



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