US: US business unites to fight labour reform

Publisher Name: 
The Financial Times

US
business leaders are ­stepping up a campaign against proposed labour
law reforms, backed by the Democrats, that could significantly enhance
the ability of unions to organise workers.

Both Hillary Clinton
and Barack Obama have endorsed proposals that would waive an employer's
right to insist on a secret workplace ballot on union representation.
Instead, a union would only have to secure the signatures of a majority
of workers in the proposed bargaining unit.

If
the Democratic candidate wins the presidency in November the issue will
become a key battleground for business under the new administration.

Business
groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the
National Retail Federation and the US Chamber of Commerce have formed a
lobbying coalition to oppose what they insist is a threat to the
principle of the secret ballot.

The Democratic-backed Employee
Free Choice Act, dubbed the "card count bill" by employers, last year
passed in the House of ­Representatives but failed to secure the
backing needed in the Senate in a procedural vote that divided along
party political lines.

Lee Scott, the chief executive officer
of Wal-Mart, the strongly anti-union retailer that is one of the
largest ­private employers in the US, argued that the bill would lead
to employees being "subjected to the individual pressure of people
calling on you and knowing where you stand".

"I think it's just
unfortunate that it has become something that has been driven by a
small group of people that have just extraordinary political
influence," he told the Financial Times.

Senior private equity figures have privately warned of the potential impact on US business costs.

Rob
Green, a lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, said stopping the
proposed changes was the group's top legislative priority. "We see the
bill as unnecessary and a big threat to the retail industry," he said.

"We're
looking ahead to 2009. What we're trying to do this year is to educate
legislators and the public at large about the details. We think the
more the public learns, the less they like it."

Only about 7 per
cent of the US private sector workforce is unionised, down from 16 per
cent in the early 1980s, according to US government statistics.

Bruce
Raynor, head of the Unite Here union, said the current system was
unworkable and that his union no longer tried to organise if an
employer insisted on opposing union activity.

He said that the
proposed legislation would also strengthen the penalties on employers
for dismissing union sympathisers. "Currently it almost behoves an
employer to dismiss union supporters and break the law, because the
penalties are so slight," he said.

AMP Section Name:Labor