|The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that only 12 percent of wage and salary workers were union members in 2006, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. This continued a trend that began after union membership gained its highest percentage of workforce membership, 35.7 percent, in 1953. As they perceive their fortunes to be increasingly bleak, unions have become more aggressive in their tactics to increase membership.|
To combat the declining interest in union membership, organized labor worked exhaustively and successfully to turn out votes for Democratic candidates across the country last November. After the election, labor leaders took credit for the outcome and are now calling in their favors with the new Congressional leadership. Stewart Acuff, organizing director of the AFL-CIO flatly stated: We want to remind Congress that this is the A.F.L.-C.I.O. No. 1 priority, and we're going to push as hard as we can. As a result, the leadership of the 110th Congress has already announced its intention to join hands with the leaders of organized labor to support the union agenda "even if these items take rights away from the workers themselves.
One of the most prominent and far-reaching of the proposals being pushed by union leaders is the Employee Free Choice Act sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) which would replace private ballots with a card check scheme designed to immediately increase the number of unionized workers in the United States. The act threatens the most basic rights of American workers "the right to a vote by private ballot. This issue has been a top priority of AH&LA for some time, but with the new leadership in the House and Senate, the threat to the lodging industry has become more immediate.
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (NLRA) was enacted to improve the bargaining power of workers. One of the key elements of the law assures workers the right to participate in a private ballot election supervised by the federal government to decide their workplace representation. Under current law, an employer or a union may request an election if 30 percent or more of the employees have signed a petition or authorization card. Once that number has been achieved, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducts a supervised election by private ballot. If the union receives more than 50 percent of the vote, then the union is certified as the bargaining agent.
The Kennedy-Miller Bill seeks to eliminate the private ballot election process and instead compel workers to join unions by the signing of authorization cards which is most often done in front of union organizers and coworkers with no privacy (see chart on page 25). If cards are collected from 50 percent or more of the employees, the union is immediately certified. This is the equivalent of having the government choose a president if a certain number of people simply register to vote.
The bill also mandates that if the newly installed union does not agree with an employer on a contract within 90 days of that union being installed, a process of binding interest arbitration could be put in place. In that process, a government-appointed mediator would have the power to impose wage rates, benefits and working conditions. Under current law, workers have the right to vote whether to accept the contract or not, but under the Kennedy-Miller Bill, the contract would be binding on the employer and workers without their approval, eliminating employees right to vote on their own working conditions. Finally, Kennedy-Miller would eliminate the current right that workers have to decertify a union if they are not satisfied with its representation until the end of the imposed contract.
However, the bill does not eliminate every instance of worker democracy. It retains the private ballot process when it is in the unions interest "if workers are granted the opportunity to decertify a union, the bill allows for unions to make their case and wage a campaign against decertification.
Both employees and employers are affected by the legislation. Although not specified, the process that the mediator would use could result in a review of confidential company records to determine how much profit would be appropriate as well as how competitive the company should be with other businesses in determining the mandates.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace
To defeat this legislation, AH&LA has taken a leadership role along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Builders and Contractors to form the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The goal of the coalition is to protect the rights of American workers by opposing the Miller-Kennedy bill.
The coalition incorporates employees, non-profits, companies and trade associations like National Restaurant Association, the National Franchise Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, National, National Association of Wholesale-Distributors plus many more.
During the last Congress, the Kennedy-Miller Bill attracted 216 cosponsors in the House" just two short of a majority"and 45 cosponsors in the Senate" just six short of a majority. With the new Democrat majority in both houses, we will have a difficult task ahead of us, but we are determined to prevail.
AH&LA and the coalition visited scores of members of Congress last year to inform them the Kennedy-Miller Bill in the 110th Congress was not a free pass, and they would be held to account.
The coalition also sponsored an ad in a Capitol Hill newspaper after Congress had its own leadership elections. The ad highlighted the fact that they recently participated in a private ballot election to determine who would represent them within the leadership of their parties in their workplace "the U.S. Congress "and that their constituents deserve the same rights in their own workplaces.
Following up on the ad, the coalition sent members of Congress a letter signed by 47 organizations to underscore the apparent contradiction of supporting legislation to eliminate workers rights to protected elections after having participated in such an election themselves.
AH&LA has also taken the unprecedented step of sending a letter to every member of Congress notifying them that co-sponsorship of the Kennedy-Miller bill would be considered a key vote by AH&LA because of the serious threat it poses to American hotel workers. The letter notes: Where protected elections currently allow workers to vote for union representation free from coercion, the signing of authorization cards is not private and invites intimidation and manipulation. It also points out: Representatives of the people at every level, from mayors of small towns to members of Congress to Presidents are all elected through private ballots in protected elections and it would be unconscionable for [them] to participate in leadership elections by private ballot and then eliminate that right for [their] constituents in their workplaces.
A Call To Action
This legislation is crucial to the continued success of our industry. Every hotelier and every hotel worker is threatened by this legislation. AH&LA will be asking its members to help fight this bill by writing letters to members of Congress and to newspaper editors, highlighting the very real attack the Kennedy-Miller Bill is on American workers. The Legislative Action Summit will also provide a great opportunity to make your views known. In addition, the coalition launched a Web site in mid-February to serve as an information source for the public, employers and employees.
AH&LA, hoteliers and hotel employees are in for the fight of their lives. Together we can win this. n
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