The Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, was introduced in Congress on March 10, 2009. The bill, introduced as H.R. 1409 and S. 560, is identical to last year’s bill. On February 26, we discussed the Secret Ballot Protection Act (see post here), which was proposed by Republicans as a preemptive strike against EFCA and which would prohibit employers from recognizing or bargaining with a union that had not won a secret-ballot election of employees. Democrat Joe Sestak, Congressman from Pennsylvania, has also introduced legislation targeting the relationship between unions, employees, and employers. Rep. Sestak introduced the National Labor Relations Modernization Act (NLRMA) (H.R. 1355) on March 5, 2009.

The NLRMA mirrors many of the provisions of EFCA but does not include one key provision: the NLRMA does not contain the card-check provision that would eliminate employees' right to choose a union through a secret-ballot election. The NLRMA does, however, contain EFCA’s increase of damages for employers who commit unfair labor practices, a provision similar to EFCA’s regulating the timeline for negotiating the terms of an initial collective bargaining agreement, and a requirement that the parties submit to binding arbitration if they are unable to reach agreement. The NLRMA also contains a novel section—not included or addressed in EFCA or SBPA—which requires employers, following the setting of an election date, to notify unions of any campaign activity they intend to undertake and to allow unions equal access to employees.

Although EFCA is currently in the nation’s spotlight, there is considerable discourse among the public and Congress about the appropriateness of its card-check provision. If Congress becomes convinced that a card-check provision is not the right way to go, NLRMA or some other compromise bill might provide the consensus necessary to pass some sort of labor reform legislation. One thing seems clear. In order for any compromise to get the support or organized labor, it will have to include some means to make it easier for unions to organize workers and some provision for binding dispute resolution when bargaining a first labor contract. These are the things considered by unions to be key to their goal of increased union representation, a goal supported by the White House, by union supporters in Congress, and by the newly appointed Secretary of Labor. Employers should begin now to plan and take steps to prepare for what is certain to be a very concerted increase in union organizing activity.

Among the essential steps are manager training, designed to make managers especially aware of the likely changes in the law, but more important to make them aware of the specific arguments that are used by union organizers to get cards signed and the sort of manager behavior that will make it more likely those union arguments fail. Employers should also undertake a concerted review of policies and practices to be sure that they have in place those rules that make it more difficult for union organizing to succeed and more important, those policies that demonstrate to employees a commitment to effective communication, fundamental fairness, and genuine worker involvement.