Governor Kulongoski Endorses Employee Free Choice Act

Governor Kulongoski was the first governor to endorse the Employee Free Choice Act, a legislative proposal currently pending in Congress that specifically calls for mandatory binding arbitration, card check elections, and employer neutrality in representation elections. The Governor’s endorsement shows his commitment to even stronger principles to protect the right of workers to form unions under state labor laws as well.

Governor Kulongoski has also made his position on farm worker collective bargaining known through his support of the EFCA. He has made it clear that he supports arbitration and card check not just for workers covered by the EFCA, but for all workers, including farm workers. "Everyone is entitled to labor rights and protections," Governor Kulongoski said. "These hurdles should not be placed in front of people trying to organize."

The governor's announcement clarifies the principles he supports for a farm worker bargaining law in Oregon and should set a strong precedent for the labor standards to be established for new tribal casinos in the state.

"This is a strong endorsement of the reforms we need to restore workers' freedom to form unions and secure the good pay and benefits that a union contract provides," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. "We applaud the governor's commitment to these principles and his willingness to stand up for workers' rights."

A key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act and the governor's announced principles for state labor policies is the requirement to send unresolved issues to a neutral arbitrator when negotiations for a first contract stall or reach impasse. This so-called "first contract arbitration" provision, now part of the farm workers bargaining law in California, was key to the recent negotiation of several new contracts for farm workers in that state. Earlier this year, an arbitrator resolved a first contract at a PictSweet mushroom plant in California where the workers had organized 17 years ago but had been unable to secure a fair agreement. The same company closed a plant in Oregon when faced with a union organizing effort several years ago.

"This is a major victory for farm workers," said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, the Oregon farm workers union. "We thank the governor for his courage to support these principles. We need these protections if farm workers are going to enjoy collective bargaining in Oregon."

The governor's announcement comes two weeks before the AFL-CIO plans to launch a stepped-up national campaign to win passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), incorporated in federal bills S. 1925 and H.R. 3619. The EFCA is designed to close loopholes in the National Labor Relations Act that have allowed employers to coerce and penalize workers who try to form unions and to refuse to bargain in good faith when new unions are formed. The Act, which is co-sponsored by 39 U.S. Senators and 203 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, proposes to:

· Require employers to recognize unions when a majority of workers sign written authorizations for a bargaining representative;
· Allow either party in first-contract negotiations to refer bargaining issues that remain unresolved after 90 days to the federal mediation service and, 30 days thereafter, to binding arbitration;
· Tougher penalties and more effective remedies when employers violate workers' freedom to form unions.

Posted on December 6, 2005
Economy, Front Page News, Labor