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Mass Unemployment in the Name of Norma Rae

by Doug French by Doug French Recently by Doug French: Bubble Economics: TheIllusionofWealth

Thirty years ago Sally Field won the Best Actress Academy Award for her gritty portrayal of Norma Rae, a widowed small-town Southern textile-mill worker. Even those who haven’t seen the entire movie have viewed stills or clips of a sweaty Field standing atop a work bench holding over her head a piece of cardboard with UNION written in black letters.

The scene portrayed happened verbatim to the woman who inspired the movie, Crystal Lee Sutton, who acted in defiance after being fired for copying a flyer put up by the mill that claimed black workers would run the union she and labor organizer Eli Zivkovich were agitating for at the J.P. Stevens textile mill in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina.

Ms. Sutton passed away September 11th, a victim of brain cancer, and union leaders are using her death to rejuvenate interest in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). As membership in unions has plummeted in the last half century from over 35 percent of all workers in 1945 to just over 12 percent currently — and only 7.6 percent if government workers aren’t included — labor leaders view EFCA as the magic bullet to increase union membership and, in turn, union political influence.

The EFCA is sometimes referred to in the press as the "card-check" bill because a key provision would do away with the requirement that the employees elect a union as their bargaining agent by way of a secret-ballot election. Instead, if a union is just able to obtain signatures on authorization cards from a majority of employees, EFCA would require that the union be certified by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Unions of course can (and do) harass employees at all hours of the day and night, coercing them to sign certification cards. A frightened employee who just wants to work and be left alone, will vote much differently if given the opportunity to cast a ballot in secret as opposed to having two thugs at his or her door late at night.

The card-check provision of the act has been a lightning rod for discussion on right-wing radio and TV, and Investor’s Business Daily reports that the Senate is proposing a compromise deal that would gut the card-check provision but still "meet labor’s objectives."

Senator Arlen Specter, D-Pa, who desperately needs union support come election time, says EFCA can’t pass with card check included. But Specter’s deal "would amend labor law by requiring: faster secret ballot elections in organizing workplaces; tougher penalties for firing organizers; giving unions equal access to workplaces if businesses hold mandatory meetings on union elections; and binding, baseball-style arbitration when newly organized unions and employers can’t agree on a contract," IBD reports.

Although union brass are insisting publicly that the card check must be included, labor experts know that the binding arbitration provision in the EFCA is far more damaging to employers and, in turn, to employment. It requires that the government step in after 90 days and bring the employer and the union together if a contract has not been finalized. The government would assign an arbitrator who would impose wage and benefit terms for the company for the next two years.

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Doug French [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and associate editor for Liberty Watch Magazine. He is the author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply. He received the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies. See his tribute to Murray Rothbard.

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