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Wide support for EFCA’s principles

Because few issues have generated quite as much controversy in the halls of Congress as the Employee Free Choice Act, you could be forgiven for assuming EFCA is extremely controversial with the public. It’s not. While EFCA has captured the attention of relatively few Americans, its principles are widely supported.

Gallup took a broad perspective in March and found Americans favoring a new law to “make it easier for labor unions to organize workers” by a 14-point margin.

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Our own polling in Louisiana, hardly a hotbed of unionism, found voters there supporting EFCA by 65 percent to 26, after a brief review of the legislation’s core provisions. Even Republicans and conservatives voted aye.

A national survey by Hart Research explored those central provisions. Three-quarters (75 percent) favored “allow[ing] employees to have a union once a majority of employees in a workplace sign authorization cards indicating they want to form a union.” Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) supported stronger penalties for companies that intimidate employees trying to unionize. Sixty-one percent favored binding arbitration when a company and new union cannot agree on a contract.

Of course, pollsters can make EFCA seem controversial by wrongly telling people it ends the secret ballot. My friend John McLaughlin induced a substantial majority to oppose EFCA, but only after telling respondents it would “replace a federally supervised secret-ballot election.”

In fact, the proposed law gives employees the choice of either using the election process as it now exists or submitting signed statements from a majority of workers supporting creation of a union.

The same Chicken Littles who predicted seatbelts would ruin the auto industry and that no-smoking laws would put restaurants out of business now fret that allowing workers to publicly state their preferences subverts the secret ballot. That’s akin to prohibiting CEOs from publicly endorsing a political candidate because such public statements undermine the secret ballot. EFCA does not take away the right to a secret ballot  — it protects free speech and the secret ballot by enabling workers to sign a statement in support of a union if they choose to do so.

In our Louisiana poll we offered respondents an accurate rendition of big business’s arguments — “Opponents say that this legislation is a bad idea because it would abolish the secret ballot … would force more workers into unions because union bosses can use coercion or deception to collect authorization cards … ”

Respondents were also supplied with a counterargument — “Supporters say that just as you have the right to sign a public statement in support of a candidate … employees should have the right to publicly declare their support for creating a union in their workplace. And if a majority of employees at a workplace sign a statement saying they want a union, that majority should rule … ”

Having heard both sides of the secret-ballot argument, voters in a conservative Southern state favored EFCA by a 19-point margin — 55 percent to 36.

In truth, though, these arguments are new to voters who know precious little about the issue. In one survey only 8 percent of employed Americans reported having heard about the “card-check” bill.

Nonetheless, the debate does tap some basic public attitudes. For example, by
3 to 1, Americans tell Gallup that big business presents a more serious threat to the country than do labor unions. Harris found Americans much more likely to believe big companies have “too much power” than to say that about labor unions.

With votes blaming big business for the economic calamity that has befallen us, it is no wonder that Americans support efforts to level the playing field between management and labor. The only surprise is politicians’ belief that voters might actually buy business’s arguments.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.