Chamber against union changes

While many unions gathered to protest Gov. David Paterson's budget this week, both businesses and organized labor representatives are keeping an eye on legislation at the national level that could greatly affect the future of unionization in general.

H.R. 800, better known as the Employee Free Choice Act, is back in the spotlight after dying in the Senate in 2007. It's designed to offer workers interest-ed in unioniz-ing more flexibility by relaxing the thres-holds required to form a union. The bill's opponents, however, say that it removes necessary safeguards and threatens small businesses for which unionization would be impractical or impossible.

It could put a lot of smaller businesses out of business, said Peter Aust, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County. "We're pro-business, and we believe this legislation is not pro-business legislation."

The Chamber takes issue with a binding arbitration clause that would require a union contract to be drawn up within 120 days of union certification. If not, an arbitrator would step in and bind both union and employer to a contract.

Speeding up this process could impose crippling legal and consulting fees on smaller businesses, said Aust.

But what opponents of the bill really take issue with is the "card check" component. Under current guidelines, if 30 percent of workers at a company sign cards indicating interest in a union, the National Labor Relations Board, a federal entity, will come in to hold a secret ballot election. If 50 percent of employees vote for unionization, the union is on its way to formation.

The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate that system, instead requiring 50 percent of employees to sign cards and doing away with elections. The idea is to streamline the process, removing costly, one-time elections and further distancing the employer from the process. Employees could, say, sign their cards from home, if they prefer.

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