Thursday, February 26, 2009

39 economists OK employee free choice law

Thirty-nine leading American economists, including two Nobel laureates have publicly endorsed a proposed law that will make it easier for workers to unionize. In a full-page ad in the February 25 Washington Post, they call the Employee Free Choice Act. “a critically important step in rebuilding our economy and strengthening our democracy by enhancing the voice of working people in the workplace.”.

After a review of the present cumbersome government procedure for workers to get a union legally recognized, the statement says that the proposed law “would give workers the choice of using sign-up—a simple, established procedure in which workers sign cards to indicate their support for their union—or staging [the existing National Labor Relations Board-style] election.”

The statement concludes:: “In recent decades, most bargaining power has resided with management. The current recession will further weaken the ability of workers to bargain individually. More than ever before, workers will need to act together. The Employee Free Choice Act is not a panacea, but it would restore some balance to our labor markets.”

Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University and Robert M. Solow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are the two Nobel laureates among the 39 signers. Another prominent signer, surprisingly, is Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, the prolific defender of free trade.

U.S. business people, as organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, are engaged in a vigorous lobbying and PR campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Economic Policy Institute, which coordinated the economists’ public statement, has developed a comprehensive analysis that, in effect, rebuts the arguments used to attack the proposed law. For example, the law is not as radical as its opponents make out.

Since 2003 more than half a million workers have formed unions through the majority sign-up system. Among the employers who have agreed to remain neutral in organizing campaigns and recognize unions through majority sign-up are the leading wireless phone company AT&T Mobility and Kaiser Permanente with its huge chain of hospitals and health plans.

In a brief filed with the NLRB, Kaiser Permanente explained that it did so because it “recognized that the protracted and often adversarial election process frequently undermined the ability of everyone involved to focus on the primary mission of providing quality health care.”

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