With union activity in healthcare already on the rise, Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced the Employee Free Choice Act with the stated intention of increasing union membership by allowing new bargaining units to form without having to hold secret elections.
Federal law already allows unions to form through the card-check process, in which pro-union workers can form a new bargaining unit if more than 50% of similarly situated workers sign cards affirming their support. But current law also allows employers to veto the card-check process and force the National Labor Relations Board to hold secret balloting. The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate an employers right to veto a card-check process and then force employers into binding arbitration if they fail to reach agreement on an initial contract after 120 days.
Organizations with large healthcare bargaining units such as the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO are staunch supporters of the legislation, while employer groups like the American Hospital Association say it could negatively affect patient care by giving power to federal labor arbitrators who may not grasp the complex world of healthcare delivery.
The bill lands in a legislative arena already primed for its arrival, with supporters and opponents on both sides armed with competing academic studies saying the act would either increase or decrease the amount of coercion in the workplace by union officials. President Barack Obama, whose campaign for office relied on heavy support from organized labor, has voiced support of the bill.