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Pending legislation would change labor relations landscape

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in Career Management,Employment Law,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Presently pending before Congress are two bills that could dramatically change labor relations across the United States.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish a new system that would enable employees to form and join labor unions. The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007 would bolster unionizing efforts among police officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers nationwide.

Card checks, not ballots

Under current labor law, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies a union as the exclusive representative of employees if it is elected by either a majority signature drive (known as a card check) or by secret balloting overseen by the NLRB. An election currently takes place if more than 30% of employees in a bargaining unit sign statements asking for representation by a union.

If the EFCA passes, unions will be able to obtain recognition simply by proving that a majority of an employer’s workers in a given work unit signed recognition cards. If the NLRB verifies that enough workers signed recognition cards, the employer would be obligated to recognize and bargain with the union. The bill would essentially eliminate the current election process.

Bargaining through arbitration?

The EFCA would also place strict timetables on the initial bargaining period by requiring an employer to begin negotiations with the union within 10 days of its gaining recognition.

If the union and the employer can’t agree on the terms of a first collective-bargaining contract within 90 days, either party would be able to request federal mediation. That could lead to binding arbitration if an agreement still can’t be reached after an additional 30 days. If an arbitrator decides the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement, the parties would be bound by the agreement for two years.

Finally, the EFCA requires the NLRB to investigate any charge of unfair labor practices. Employees could receive triple back pay for violations. Additional civil fines are also available for willful or repeat offenders. 

Public-sector unionization

The Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act of 2007 is another important piece of proposed legislation that could produce a dramatic impact on labor relations. This bill is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

If enacted the bill would establish a national system of collective bargaining for most of the country’s public safety officers, including law enforcement officers, firefighters and other emergency service personnel employed by state and local governments. The bill would require every state and local government to recognize public-sector unions as the exclusive representatives for their law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency service personnel.

The bill would also establish a national collective-bargaining system governed by a federal agency called the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA). 

The FLRA would be responsible for issuing rules that would ensure that “first responders” have the right to form collective-bargaining units and enter into collective-bargaining agreements with their employers. The bill would grant authority to the FLRA to conduct hearings and resolve complaints of unfair labor practices, bargaining in good faith and determining the appropriateness of units for labor-organization representation.

The FLRA could issue compliance requirements for cities. If the agency believed a city was not complying, it could seek injunctive relief and resolution through the courts.

Mandatory collective bargaining

Many states and local governments already recognize public-sector unions, and most law enforcement personnel and firefighters are already covered by union collective-bargaining agreements. However, some states and local governments negotiate contracts individually with their public-sector employees. If the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act is passed into law, however, governments would be required to collectively negotiate with a union instead.

The bill easily passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. In May 2008, the Senate held a procedural vote in order to begin debate on the bill, the results of which appeared to show enough support to pass in the Senate. But Senate Democrats dropped the bill after Republicans complained that they did not have enough time to add amendments. Nevertheless, there are indications the Senate will revive the bill by the end of the year.

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