Labor Law Guy

Business Group Offers Alternative to Employee Free Choice Act

Posted in Federal Labor Law, Random Musings by laborlawguy on March 23, 2009

Starbuck’s, Whole Foods and Costco have floated a proposal to level the playing field, as they term it, in union organizing. The group rejects two prongs of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–the card-check and binding arbitration provisions–and keeps in place the current system of secret balloting.

What they do retain from the EFCA is the provision for increased penalties on employers who obstruct the unionization process or who otherwise threaten, intimidate or outright terminate activist employees.

What they offer in place of card check and arbitration are an expedited election process and equal access for the union to employee gatherings held pre-election for informational purposes, meetings which unions claim are currently used by employers to spread disinformation and scare employees into voting no.

The proposal was instantly rejected by Congressional sponsors of the EFCA as “written by CEOs, for CEOs.” An AFL-CIO spokesperson said it was “simply not an alternative.”

The three companies found little comfort in the business world either, where a line of no compromise has been drawn in the sand.

It appears that friends and foes of the EFCA alike have adopted an all-or-nothing appoach. Time will tell if one side or the other eventually blinks–or if both do.

(For the record, Costco is the only one of the three companies to be unionized, and it is just partially unionized through a handful of  locations that were organized by the Teamsters when they were Price Clubs. Costco does, however, give all its employers the same wages and benefits that it negotiates with the Teamsters every three years. Whole Foods actually once had one unionized location in Madison, Wisconsin, out of 300 or so total outlets. The company’s co-founder, John Mackey, has routinely blasted the “intellectually bankrupt left” on his blog and derided unions as “like having herpes.” In fact, Mackey discovered an online community on Yahoo devoted to Whole Foods and contributed nearly 1400 comments over seven years using the pseudonym rahodeb, a variation on the name of his wife Deborah. This activity of his came into play when Whole Foods made an offer to purchase Wild Oats, and the SEC discovered that Mackey had used the online communities for Whole Foods and Wild Oats to game the deal. Whole Foods, to its credit, does provide all employees with free health insurance and competitive wages, factors which have helped stave off unionization at all locations save that one. Starbucks has been in and out of hearings and courtrooms in the past for alleged union-busting activities, and late last year was found guilty by a National Labor Relations Board judge and ordered to reinstate three employees with back pay. There is a Starbucks Union Web site, but its account has been suspended, which hosting services will do for unpaid bills, overuse of bandwidth, violations of terms of service, and other reasons. Even if I had the time, I doubt I’d be motivated to find out why the union’s site has been suspended–unless I can discover some kind of scandal hidden therein.)

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4 Responses

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  1. Jay Adair said, on March 27, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Can’t we just get rid of the unions. What purpose do they serve other than to promote laziness. I love a union worker to chime in on this debate…I would tear them apart.

  2. sethkahn said, on April 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Jay, if you have a job, you can thank unions for–

    40-hour workweeks with overtime if you exceed those hours
    Weekends
    Health benefits through your workplace
    Safety measures that reduce the number of injuries and increase worker productivity

    Could go on and on. It’s just a lie that unions make workers lazy–an oft-repeated lie, but a lie nonetheless.

    Yes, I’m a union officer. No, I’ve never threatened or intimidated anybody. No, I’ve never slacked off or taken my job for granted because I thought my union would protect me. Neither has one single other member of my union, or any other actual union member I know of. Yes, sometimes unions push hard against management abuse, and sometimes there’s reasonable disagreement about what constitutes abuse. But to accuse unions of making people lazy is ridiculous.

  3. laborlawguy said, on April 2, 2009 at 9:04 am

    It’s good to see you posted that on April Fools’ Day since you got some of your facts wrong, or skewed. The 40-hour workweek came about courtesy of FDR and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. Health benefits came about courtesy of WWII and its wage and price freezes. Henry Kaiser introduced health insurance as a way to attract workers to his shipbuilding facilities and elsewhere (eventually morphing into Kaiser Permanente). Soon other businesses followed as the IRS ruled that health benefits were not wages and therefore not taxable (soon to change under the labor-friendly Obama Democrats as they rework health care). And yes, I myself used to work for a teachers’ union. I can’t say the union made the teachers lazy, but it certainly protected those who had no business teaching. Plus, the union where I worked cared only about money–for them and for their union constituents–so the classrooms suffered as every year’s automatic cost-of-living increase from the state had to go into teachers’ wallets instead of the classroom (and the largest pay increases were always negotiated in favor of the old timers and their buddies who ran the union, leaving entry and mid-level salaries low).

    Let’s see if Jay will weigh in.

  4. Jay Adair said, on April 6, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Unions are groups of people that are lazy and advocate less work for more pay…if not as the Labor Law guy mentioned most have no business working. I’ve dealt and worked in unions myself from hospitality, construction, grocery stores, , teachers, to infamous long shoreman. The unions served a purpose at one time however at some point when unions legitimately helped provide honest work at honest pay has become an excuse to most today. I could go through story after story telling you about the ongoing disputes and stories of complainers because they had to work harder when they did nothing to begin with. I actually knew one guy who was an oiler in Boston’s construction scene. Do you know what that is. When they needed oil on the cranes he was taught to oil certain gears with the classic wizard of oz oil can and spout and got paid over $50k a year in 1950. I know another guy that gets up at 4am to serve coffee and pastires at 5am until 9am and gets paid almost $70k a year. That of course was in 1999. Name a city and I will talk about a union, New York, Boston, Illinois, Dallas, LA, San Francisco, Miami. We had a portion of our business try and unionize and of course we got rid of it. When that happened the quality of work improved the investors took notice and our stock tripled. Of course there were many reasons but one of the most notable by the public was the elimination of the unions.

    I have all sorts of stories but none of what I will say will matter to any one in a union. Once you get money handed to you for nothing as soon as someone threatens to take it away everyone gets real mad and act like they worked so hard for it. It’s almost like unemployment. To be nice I will say I do know a few fair people in unions but they are far and few between.


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