HERMON, Maine — Some of Maine’s business leaders lobbed another salvo Wednesday in the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act, which supporters say would make it easier for unions to organize.
The controversial bill, which also is known as card check, is working its way through Congress — and while its fate is anything but clear, experts are certain that it will engender a contentious national battle between pro-labor and pro-business groups as it goes.
“The [act’s] very name is misleading as it does nothing to promote freedom or choice,” state Rep. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, said at a press conference in the Best Western White House Inn in Hermon. “Maine businesses and employees have traditionally had excellent communications. … We do not need to inject into this relationship a process whereby out-of-state interests will promote divisiveness in the workplace.”
If the bill becomes law, it would take away a company’s right to demand a secret ballot election on whether workers want to unionize.
Instead, a union would be certified when the National Labor Relations Board finds that a majority of workers have signed cards designating the union as their bargaining representative.
Organized labor sees the bill as crucial to its recruitment drives. Unions represent about one in eight workers today, down from about one in five 25 years ago, though membership did increase slightly in 2008.
But business leaders have vowed to do whatever it takes to defeat the bill, which Rep. Mike Michaud originally co-sponsored and Rep. Chellie Pingree also endorses.
Sen. Olympia Snowe’s office affirmed Wednesday that she always has been against it and Sen. Susan Collins filibustered the bill on a previous trip through Congress.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Maine business leaders painted a bleak picture of life if the bill is passed, including increasing tensions in the workplace between employers and employees and a worsening state and national economy.
Some expressed their doubts as to whether Maine employees need to be unionized at all.
Peter Daigle, the chief operating officer of Lafayette Hotels, said that his company has a very good relationship with its workers.
“The so-called Employee Free Choice Act will make it easier for a third party, a union, to come between us and our workers,” he said. “It’s debatable whether a union would truly benefit employees.”
Other leaders also said that union organizers might intimidate workers in order to get them to sign up.
Right now, the opposite is true, according to labor advocate Steve Husson of Hampden.
Husson was among the Bangor DHL drivers who voted to join the Teamsters union back in 2005.
“There was no intimidation by the Teamsters at all, but DHL scared the bejeepers out of a lot of people,” he said. “They sent out rumors that if it went union, they’d close up the shop. You start worrying, ‘Am I going to have a job? What’s my future going to be?’”
Husson, 56, said that because of employer intimidation, the electoral process to vote to join the union was “about as fair as it is in Zimbabwe.”
Another labor organizer, Jack McKay, scoffed at the notions that the free choice act would wreak havoc in Maine’s small businesses, or that union organizers from away would muscle in to convert workplaces.
“Workers have a great vested interest in seeing their jobs continue,” McKay, the president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council and director of Food AND Medicine, said. “Workers want to keep their jobs and have a good place to work. They want to potentially organize, without the crushing fear that’s in many workplaces.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.