by Bill, Management, Think About It...

Employee Free Choice Act isn't Free, Fair, or Necessary

4 Comments 16 August 2008

EFC bannerThe Atlanta Journal Constitution (electronic version) posted a very good article this week by Atlanta labor attorneys, James Walter and Matthew Simpson about a piece of legislation, the “Employee Free Choice Act” (EFCA) now working its way thru Congress. If passed by the 111th Congress, it is expected that the bill would be signed into law by Sen. Barack Obama, should he be elected President.

The proposed legislation would overturn a 43 year old system in which union representation elections are conducted via a federally overseen secret ballot process, and replace it with a less formal “card check” procedure where the rules are enforced not by an unbiased federal representative, but a decidedly partisan union organizer. In essence, it is designed to do one thing and one thing only – to make it easier for labor unions to shore up their shrinking membership rolls, ‘er bank accounts.

The bill has recently drawn considerable attention as the result of union-backed furor over efforts by Wal-Mart, a fervently union-free employer, to alert its management staff to the downside potential of this act, if signed into law, on their business.

As one who for thirty years has been more than a casual student of employee relations, I can attest with some certainty that there is nothing about this bill that is good for American business or its employees. Moreover, as with many of the other labels (e.g., conservative, liberal, values voter) that seem to float unchallenged through our conversation these days, I am totally and completely perplexed by the name of this bill. How in the world can something that actually reduces freedom and eviscerates a scrupulously fair process be known as “employee free choice?”

A thought leader in the areas of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard, and their work, please visit their website at


- who has written 239 posts on Contented Cows.

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4 Comments so far

  1. Let’s be realistic, it would enormously benefit American employees and as far as the spin-doctored idea of “losing freedom”, the Bill actually would let the workers decide if they would like a “secret ballot” election. Obviously the current system is completely in favor of the employers and is the cash cow for quite a few law firms who rely on “the fear of a unionized” work force to make a living. The true difference is that those union avoidance law firms would need to find new areas to make themselves needed. As far as helping American companies, it sure would, imagine if we had some more people with a little disposable income, that’s a huge help for businesses, maybe people could actually afford to buy more stuff, consumerism at it’s best.

    Plus there is a huge benefit to have a work force that has something to work for, like keeping a good union job as opposed to a the fly by night minimum wagers who couldn’t care less.

    Take for instance the local Home Depot, where there is no union and it has a huge “us against them” worker attitude, the last time I shopped in the store I needed a small part for a shelving system, now without delving into the “if it were a mom and pop” there would have been an employee who went into a back room and came back to me within 2 minutes with the parts needed part of my story, lets focus on what happened.

    I walked into the store, around 7:00PM, noticed there was a lot of people on line, around 12 with all sorts of stuff to purchase, with only one cash register opened, that’s fine, I know the policy of big box stores, if they spent all that time shopping and they have no alternatives they will wait forever if they have to, but lets continue, I went to the area that the shelves are stored and noticed that the shelving I use was in short supply, sorta like Home Depot was phasing it out, which would be a shame because I see the same shelving in stores all over the place, so I have been in this store for around 15 minutes already, locating exactly where the shelving is as they tend to move stuff around frequently, and notice that the pieces I need are not displayed with the shelving, so I look around and see a worker and I ask the fellow if he could help me and I was told immediately that it was not his section and I need to push an assistance button located every 5 racks or so and wait.

    I waited, then I waited some more, having been in the store for over a 1/2 an hour I was kinda getting a little peeved, so I grabbed a young fella and asked him if the button thing actually works and he said “it’s supposed to” and explained that if the customer service personnel isn’t extremely busy they are to stock shelves in different departments, that sounded fine as I can understand not paying someone for nothing, but if that’s the case, make sure the button system works AND make sure you have employees who are willing to do what is needed to attend to the customers needs. I of course asked him if he knew where I could find the part needed, he said that they only let him learn a few aisles and he stated that he wanted o learn some more, but it was against their policy. I asked the kid if he was in a union, he said that Home Depot had one, the managers union, and I laughed, I told him not to mention the word or he would lose his job and he told me he didn’t care as they were only being payed a touch above minimum wage and were treated like garbage. He did however find the person who was supposed to be covering the area and then he came over and did not have a clue what I was asking for, he said that maybe I should go to the “hardware” section and seek assistance. Now I’m in Home Depot, a bit angry for the fact that I had already spoken to 3 employees and been in the store for about 45 minutes already, I started making my 1/4 mile trek to the hardware section.

    Once in the ‘hardware section” I started searching for assistance, aside from the 3 people who asked me for assistance, I wound up figuring after roaming around the 3 aisles of ‘hardware’ that there was no store employees at all in the section, now it’s more than an hour, I decide that I’m a little more than peeved at this point and noticed a desk in the middle of the store which would likely have someone who could get me assistance in a matter of seconds with a phone call, I approached and noticed that the fellow just sitting there BS’ing on the phone, yes he was laughing away, was a part of their management team.

    Surely when seeing a customer heading towards him, he would end the call ASAP, but NO, he just waved his hand up with 2 fingers pointing up and mouthed the word “2 seconds” and gave a nod of assurance that he would be right with me. I would guess that his actions are supposed to have me feel as if I’m a friend that should understand his neglect and not a cash paying customer, when I was a kid working in stores, the customer came first, but I guess like pricing merchandise that went the way of the dinosaur too.

    Eventually after about 3 minutes, Mr. Manager had decided he laughed enough and hung up the phone and asked me “What do you need?”, I said I needed some help finding a certain part, he stated assuredly “I know exactly what you need and where to find it”. I was thrilled and said lets get it and he said that he was busy, I guess someone need to keep the seat warm at the Home Depot desk, and that would get someone to meet me in the aisle immediately. There was a call over the store PA system for someone to come to my aid so I made the trek back to “hardware”.

    I was thrilled, not only did the store have it, but someone was going to help me right away, it may have taken an hour and a half, but if I got the parts I needed it was worth it.

    I wait, and wait, and wait some more, it’s now past 8:30 and I’ve been in Home Depot almost 2 hours when an employee walks down the aisle, i think “here she is, I’ll be out of here in a few minutes, once again I’m disappointed, she doesn’t work in the section and she is on her break, BUT she goes the extra mile and knows exactly where the fellow who works the aisle is and feels really bad for what I’ve been going through, she tells me it’s nothing new and it happens all the time, she further explains that they don’t even want the employees to help the customers as that takes too much time and the management feels that the customers will help one another without the company paying for it. I feel like this corporation is really mismanaged and with it’s short sided nature will eventually go out of business, but that’s another story for another day.

    She feels so bad in fact for my plight that she takes me to the section where the guy who knows hardware is working, hes within a football field’s distance, so she takes me to the “tool section”, mind you, she did this on her own time, to meet the fellow. He’s on a giant ladder getting cases of merchandise to stock the shelves, he doesn’t hesitate to put down the boxes and assist me, maybe he though I was a friend of the other employee, maybe he was just a person with the old idea that a customer comes first, whatever the case he finds out what i need and without a shadow of a doubt informs me that Home Depot does not carry the hardware components for that particular shelving unit. He explains to me that I should just buy another one and open it, take out the parts I need and return it.

    This is what my experience at the local Home Depot was like, and I know for a fact that Home Depot is a huge lobbyist against the Employee Free Choice Act. The would rather spend 10 times the money than it would cost them if they had a conscientious unionized work staff. They could have a union that actually trains employees at the trade of being a hardware store employee, they could have a dedicated staff who really wants to learn and be a part of a corporation that could have workers who believe that there is a real reason to do a good job, to make money for a business that hires union workers, that creates jobs that have a living wage and a sense of responsibility to get the job done each working day, so that job will still be there tomorrow. The current system at Home Depot is a failure to anyone who invests in it for the long term, for their employees and for the United States of America.

    One only need to look towards a company that has the right progressive ideals and has a wonderful customer service and employees who work with enthusiasm, take a walk into a COSTCO, where their open to unionization policies have just a fraction of their stores unionized. They treat their workers with respect, it shows when shopping there, the workers in the store by me do not stop unless they are on a break, they know where everything is and they smile when you speak to them. The local Brooklyn store is not unionized, and if there were more employers like COSTCO, they might not need unions in Big Box stores at all. They start their employees with a bit more than $11 an hour. They have something to work for and it shows. They don’t want to lose their job. They want customers to come back.

    Remember employees are your first line of offense, they can get people to come back and be dedicated consumers, when you have the us against them attitude and the false ideas that when someone who cannot afford to eat is a partner of a major corporation, it is doomed to failure. Starbucks, Home Depot are closing stores by the hundreds. Their anti-union policies and their mistreatment of their workers, along with their short-sightedness and the economic downturn are all a major factor.

    I know that I may not get you to agree with me on everything, but if you are an individual who is not just blindly pro-corporate, I really wish you would acknowledge the FACT that the Employee Free Choice Act does not take away any freedom for employees, there is still the option for a secret ballot election in the Bill, it is completely up to the employees.

    Thanks also for giving me a reason to tell my Home Depot story, I was holding onto that one for a while.

    Thanks for reading,

    PS: I am totally and completely perplexed by the term “Right To Work”

  2. Hello Joe,

    Whew! Thanks for your post, Joe.

    Ironically, I, too went to Big Orange over the weekend, and came away as pissed off as you were, for the same reason… crummy (make that no) service.

    I didn’t, however leap to the conclusion that a union would solve their problems, because unions don’t fix systemic management problems. Were that the case, America’s airlines would all be staffed with helpful, smiling, productive workers, the planes would run on time, and you and I couldn’t wait to board our next flights. No, I left utterly convinced that the big broom that swept Mr. Nardelli out of Atlanta needs to do some more sweeping.

    While that’s under way, I plan to visit a mom and pop hardware store (just like the one mentioned in your post) for my hardware needs. Aided by a knowledgeable, friendly employee I’ll likely find just what I need in a lot less time. Why don’t you do the same?

    In the meantime, please re-read the EFCA statute. Under the EFCA, a secret ballot election would only be held if more than 30%, but less than a majority of employees sign union authorization cards, to wit, in many cases, the card check becomes the de-facto standard for representation. Having a union organizer in charge of that part of the process is about as free and unfettered as having Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh join you in the voting booth on election day. Fair and balanced, right?


    Bill Catlette

  3. Will Laughlin says:

    Hi Bill,
    I agree fully with you that this EFCA is a bad Idea.
    Having worked most of my life for non-union companies, I now find myself unfortunately working in one. I selected “non-member” status but have to pay a “representation fee” (free money for the union bosses). Instead of a partnership attitude between workers and management, the “us vs. them” crowd does little for our morale. These people just don’t seem to understand that the union will only act in the best interest of the union….period! It seem that these people went to sleep in 1975 and woke up in 2008 and it scares the hell out of them.
    Unions, thankfully, are in decline as more companies realize that treating their employees as partners is not only the right thing to do, but necessary if they want to effectively compete in today’s global economy.(Where did I read that!!)
    They need to read both Contented Cows books and open their eyes to the fact that “the good old days” are long gone.

    With Best Wishes,

  4. sandrar says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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