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Red States Opposing Employee Free Choice Act Need It Most

June 20, 2007

In Washington this week, the Senate will take up the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Passed by the House 241-185 in March, EFCA would make it much easier for unions to organize. Predictably, red state Republican Senators backed by an alliance of business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will likely prevent the measure from coming to a vote. Which is too bad. After all, from wages and benefits to job opportunities and collective bargaining rights, it is red state workers who need EFCA most.
First a little background. The decline of the American manufacturing sector combined with increased intimidation from employers have shriveled the unionized workforce to 9% (down from its 1950's high of 30%). The Employee Free Choice Act, as the Center for American Progress details, was designed to help American workers organize to improve stagnant wages and protect diminishing health and pension benefits in an ever more hostile bargaining environment:

"Under current law, an employer can insist on a secret-ballot election," even after a majority of employees express their desire to organize. The proposed law "would give employees at a workplace the right to unionize as soon as a majority signed cards saying they wanted to do so"...Employees "often feel intimidated by their employers during unionization drives and so are fearful of losing their jobs." Employers illegally fire employees for union activity in "more than one-quarter of all organizing efforts." Approximately half of employers illegally threaten to close or relocate the business if workers elect to form a union.

And as Perrspectives has previously detailed, working conditions and wages are worst in precisely those red states that elected George W. Bush.
For example, a December 2005 report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts showed that Americans' working conditions in general closely follow the 2004 electoral map. The report's Work Environment Index (WEI) rated the quality of Americans' working lives by a weighting of three factors: job opportunities, job quality, and job fairness. The top five states were Delaware, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Iowa, the bottom five were South Carolina, Utah, Arkansas Texas and Louisiana.

There are no surprises among the worst performing states in the Work Environment Index. Virtually all below the Mason-Dixon line, the WEI laggards feature dismal pay and an outwardly hostile environment towards union organizing, workers' rights and collective bargaining. Red America is the home of the so-called Right-to-Work (RTW) states. These "right to work" states prohibit workers from being required to join a trade union as a condition of employment. A leader in the Right-to-Work movement, Bush's home state of Texas was ranked 50th, with the percentage of workers with health and pension benefits running a full 10% below the top WEI performers:

But working conditions aren't the only area where denizens of the Republican heartland suffer relative to their blue state brethren. As Perrspectives detailed in January, minimum wage levels also vary significantly from state to state. Unsurprisingly, many of the "bluest" states lead the way in exceeding both the previous ($5.15 an hour) and recently passed ($7.25) federal requirements, with Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut mandating wages as high as $7.93. Only one of the 21 states (New Hampshire) mired at $5.15 an hour did not vote for George W. Bush in 2004.

But in the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, the woes of red state workers will have no impact on their elected representatives. President Bush, of course has vowed to veto the bill. The Senate Republican Conference touts an op-ed piece by Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, which blasts EFCA while lauding his state's dismal economic performance. Shelby comically proclaims "Alabama workers have partnered with business and together they have created a vibrant economy."
And to think his fellow Republican Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the bill "Orwellian."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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