What Really Drives Opposition To The Employee Free Choice Act?

May 11, 2009 7:29 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Conservatives don't want working people to have a voice.  Passing the Employee Free Choice Act would do a lot to make sure the right wing doesn't get its way.

The Workforce Fairness Institute, an ironically named organization devoted to "killing" the Employee Free Choice Act, has taken to calling the labor reform bill by another name: the "Employee FORCED Choice Act." According to the group's website, the bill "would rip apart a sacred American right in favor of an unfair and coercive card check process.  That's why EFCA should really be called the Employee Forced Choice Act."

Of course, the myth that the Employee Free Choice Act "takes away a worker's fundamental right to a private ballot in union organizing elections," as the Workforce Fairness Institute claims, has been repeatedly debunked. The majority sign-up provision in the bill simply makes it easier for workers to form unions without employer interference and harassment.  But more to the point, a group that was "founded by several longtime Republican operatives" and is likely funded by anti-labor giants like Wal-Mart and Home Depot doesn't have a ton of credibility when it comes to looking out for working people.

Still, the Workforce Fairness Institute - and the corporate interests they protect - are sticking to their story because they don't have a better one.  After all, there aren't many good reasons to oppose legislation that would lead to higher wages, better benefits, and a more productive economy.  In fact, the 2009 "Index of Economic Freedom" published by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal concluded that countries with higher unionization rates are "economically freer" than the United States - whatever that means.  Meanwhile, both the House Labor Committee and U.S. Small Business Administration found that the Employee Free Choice Act could help small businesses survive.    

The bill would lead to more unions, which would lead to higher wages, which would create consumer activity, which would stimulate the economy, which is good for business.  Corporate executives get it.  That's why even Lee Scott, the former CEO of Wal-Mart, supported raising the minimum wage in 2005.  "Our customers simply don't have the money to buy basic necessities between pay checks," Scott said at the time.  Translation: higher wages will boost our sales. 

But if that's the case, why is Wal-Mart helping to lead the charge against the Employee Free Choice Act? Well, as Scott explained in 2008, there are other considerations. "We like driving the car," he told BusinessWeek. "And we're not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us."

In other words, it's all about power. As columnist Thomas Frank wrote: "Management has it, workers don't, and business doesn't want that to change." That's what drives the opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act - and unions in general - not profit margins, not a non-existent threat to small businesses, and certainly not some manufactured concern for workers' rights.

Conservatives don't want working people to have a voice.  Passing the Employee Free Choice Act would do a lot to make sure the right wing doesn't get its way.