WASHINGTON — Labor groups and the business community are preparing to square off over a bill that would make it easier for workers to unionize.
The anticipated legislation has become a flash point between organized labor and retail and apparel companies and could lead to a divisive debate in the early days of President-elect Barack Obama’s administration when Congress begins its new session in early January.
A broad-based group of business organizations, working under the moniker the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, recently sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose the proposed legislation. Meanwhile, union groups have ramped up their lobbying efforts to include the bill in a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package that is in the works.
Obama, who will be sworn into office on Jan. 20, cosponsored the legislation, known as the Employee Free Choice Act, and pledged on the campaign trail to make the bill a priority. Congressional Democrats are gearing up to revive the legislation, which has languished in Congress under a Republican president who threatened to veto it.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) told reporters during the lame-duck session of Congress last month that the bill would be on the top of the legislative list when Congress returns on Jan. 6.
Under the bill, if a majority of workers in a workplace sign cards authorizing a union, the workers would get a union. The majority sign-up process is permitted under current law, but only if the employer allows it. Many employers require employees to undergo an election process, known as a secret ballot election, administered by the National Labor Relations Board.
Rep. George Miller (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has argued that NLRB elections are “stacked heavily against pro-union workers.”
The bill stiffens penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or contract drive and allows employers and newly formed unions to refer bargaining to mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration if they are not able to agree on a first contract after 90 days of bargaining.
“The Employee Free Choice Act is high up on our agenda,” said Hoyer. “We believe very strongly that employees have not only the right to organize and bargain collectively for pay, benefits and working conditions, but that our economy is better off when that happens. We also believe it has been very difficult for employees to get elections. There have been great delays and no enforcement by the NLRB against unfair labor practices.”
Bruce Raynor, general president of UNITE HERE, said he expects Obama to quickly send an economic stimulus package to the Hill and include it in the Employee Free Choice Act.
“It [the legislation] will allow several million American workers to go to the bargaining table with employers and arrive at a reasonable compromise,” said Raynor.
UNITE HERE represents some 450,000 apparel and textile manufacturing, retail and distribution workers, hotel and gaming industry employees, laundry workers and food service employees. Union membership has declined sharply in recent years, said Raynor, noting that unions only represent 7.5 percent of the private sector workforce. He said retail and manufacturing sectors would be among the main targets for unionizing and added that several labor groups are discussing working together to organize geographically, either entire cities or industries in particular cities.
The push by organized labor has put industry on the defensive.
“It is a landscape changer for our industry, there is no question about it,” said Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of public affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association. “We think, certainly, if members of Congress want to have a discussion about bad actors and about specific labor law reforms, we are happy to have a constructive dialogue.”
In its letter to lawmakers, the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which includes RILA, the American Apparel & Footwear Association and the National Retail Federation, called the legislation a “dramatic assault on the rights of employees and employers that threatens to severely undermine any chance at a constructive dialogue on labor law reforms.”
The coalition contends two provisions in the bill “represent egregious attempts to limit the rights of employees and employers, and will severely diminish the ability of U.S. business to succeed in a globally competitive market.”
They point out the bill would effectively eliminate secret ballot voting and mandate that a union be recognized by a simple majority of signed authorization cards. The group also argues the bill would establish two-year binding contracts set by a federal arbitrator without a vote by employees.
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye
"Nowadays when life is not so happy with everything going on in the world, I think people come to me for a little bit of whimsy and color and fun." - Designer Rebecca De Ravenel on her cult-favorite jewelry line. (📸 : @vsteves) #wwd40
“Everyone is talking about how the retail industry is struggling, but I think it’s an incredible time because brands who are doing something different and innovative are setting themselves up for the future,” said @adamgoldston, who founded the luxury athletic brand @apl with his brother @ryangoldsten. The Goldston’s are part of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables. See the rest of the list on WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
@eyeswoon blogger Athena Calderone debuted her first-ever cookbook, “Cook Beautiful,” which is heavily centered on the presentation and visual expression of food. Pictured here are her miso glazed carrots from the book. Get the recipe on WWD.com. (📷: @johnny_miller_) #wwdeye
“It’s passion that helps get anybody to a certain point and it’s what’s propelled me,” said Kith founder @ronniefieg, one of WWD’s 40 under 40: a group of industry notables who are changing the face of retail, fashion and beauty. Fieg, who opened a Manhattan flagship on October 7, began his career at age 13 as a stock boy and salesman for footwear chain David Z. “I think staying true to [my] beliefs, hard work and passion have gotten me to where [Kith] is today.” See the rest of the 40 at WWD.com. (📷: @vsteves) #wwd40
25-year-old @samweaving is about to break out this fall, starring in Netflix’s horror film “The Babysitter,” fittingly out today on Friday the 13th. That’s not the only place you’ll be seeing her, though — Weaving’s got a role Showtime’s “SMILF” and another alongside Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Though she’s got a full plate at the moment, there’s one role she’s got her eye on: Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a little too young at the moment, but it’s on my bucket list,” the actress told WWD (📷: @dandoperalski) #wwdeye
BFF's Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse celebrated the launch of their bag line Pop x Suki at Nordstrom last night. "The line is really about our friendship, and how we are so different but complement each other," said Waterhouse. 👯 (📷: Katie Jones) #wwdeye
After designing the new @louisvuitton and @bulgariofficial flagships and a @chanelofficial boutique opening in Japan, @petermarinoarchitect has another project on his plate: The Lobster Club. Located in the Seagram Building, it’s the famed architect’s first restaurant project in New York, serving up modern Japanese brasserie-style cuisine. Bronze hues, bespoke material detailing, blush and chartreuse tones and a heavy emphasis on Picasso can be seen throughout. Mark your calendars for Nov. 1 for the much-anticipated opening. (📷: @clint_spaulding) #wwdeye