Over the past ten days, some interesting developments suggest that at least some in organized labor may be thinking about life without EFCA. The story begins with remarks President Obama made on September 13, while speaking at an event in Virginia. He answered a question posed by an audience member on the EFCA. He acknowledged that there were not enough votes in the U.S. Senate to pass EFCA. Therefore, the "opportunity to actually get this passed right now is not real high." He again referenced administrative steps his administration has taken to "make it easier for unions to operate…."
Then, earlier this week, this article appeared, containing an edited interview with Eliseo Medina, the gentleman who won support from the SEIU’s executive board to become the Secretary-Treasurer of that union. Mr. Medina will serve until 2012, and takes the place of Ann Burger, who lost her bid earlier this year to become the President of SEIU. According to the article, Mr. Medina was highly successful in leading organizing efforts in the South and Southwest.
In the article, Mr. Medina is asked how the SEIU should proceed with his goal of membership growth "with little prospect for passage in the near future of the Employee Free Choice Act." Mr. Medina notes that "with or without" EFCA, the SEIU needs to take its message to workers. He described as "untenable" the fact that only 7% of the private sector workforce is in a union now. Ultimately, Mr. Medina indicated that the SEIU and the rest of the labor movement "have to go back to square one" and give employees information about joining unions.
Of course, for the labor relations professional, what this sounds like is good, old fashioned union organizing. Unions used to do a lot of it. It was only a decade ago when the NLRB conducted nearly 4,000 elections a year (4,001 in 1998 and 3,743 in 1999) — the substantial majority initiated by labor unions seeking to organize new members. In 2009, the NLRB reported that the number of elections held had fallen to 1,704.
If Mr. Medina’s remarks do foretell a return to traditional organizing efforts, employers should be on alert for a resurgence in organizing activity. Even though the activity would take place under existing law, unions will have a more receptive audience at the NLRB for union-friendly interpretations of that law.
Interestingly, the AFL-CIO seems to be on a slightly different page, appearing to have faith that the legislative process will yield the changes to the law it wants. In between President Obama’s comments and the article summarizing Mr. Medina’s views, Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, told listeners to a webcast that they should "stay tuned" on EFCA "because before the end of the year, you will hear something" about it.