For years labor groups have complained about the difficulty of organizing unions. Two Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill yesterday that would make that easier. The measure is called the Employee Free Choice Act, and it has once again stirred up a firestorm of debate between business interests and labor groups. If passed, workers could establish a union if a majority sign cards requesting one. That would be a change from current law. Now employers can require a secret ballot, which takes more time and allows more employer input.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report on the arguments for and against the bill.

YUKI NOGUCHI: Just the threat of this new law making it easier to form a union prompted one of corporate America's only growing companies to take a hit. Wal-Mart got a downgraded stock rating from a Wall Street analyst, who said the so-called card check law could hurt the company and bring its stock down about 10 percent.

Money is what makes this such a high-stakes battle. Labor unions want to push for more middle class wage hikes. And that sends shivers down corporate America's spine — especially in hard times like this, when companies are trying to trim labor costs.

And as is often the case with policy issues like this one, coalitions have formed on both sides running ads like this one, sponsored by a pro-business group.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Male #1: Today when workers vote on having a union at their workplace, they use a secret ballot, but a new law could change all that.

NOGUCHI: The ad campaign from that group, which calls itself the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, features a mafia boss who shakes down employees, intimidating them into backing the union.

Mr. BRAD CLOSE (National Federation of Independent Business): It's intended to stack the deck to make sure that a union can organize any business it wants without too much of a hassle.

NOGUCHI: Brad Close is vice president of federal public policy for the National Federation of Independent Business and a member of the coalition. He says workers actually stand to lose if the bill passes.

Mr. CLOSE: A lot of the small business owners tell us that if they are forcibly organized under this legislation, a lot of them will close their doors. So you're going to have job losses from businesses shutting down, so it is going to have an impact on the economy.

NOGUCHI: Promoting the health of the economy is an argument that both the law's detractors and its supporters lay claim to. For its part, a labor-backed coalition calling itself American Rights at Work is running ads like this promoting its point of view.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Male #2: Corporate greed. It's caused a meltdown of our economy; just look at the news, or your retirement account. Now greedy CEOs want to prevent workers from joining unions to level the playing field.

Mr. STEWART ACUFF (AFL-CIO): This is one of the most important issues facing America today.

NOGUCHI: Stewart Acuff is special assistant to the president at the AFL-CIO. He argues that one of the reasons for the current economic stagnation is that workers haven't gotten meaningful wage increases in recent decades. And as a result, they've lost buying power. So, he says, actually it's business that stands to benefit should labor win the day.

Mr. ACUFF: We need to put more money in the hands of people who will spend it in this economy. You can't power this economy if average Americans can't buy things. And this will allow workers to negotiate for a fair share of the wealth that they create so that they can then spend it and power this economy.

NOGUCHI: A vote has not yet been set on the bill. During the last Congress, it passed the House but failed in the Senate. This year, with a clearer Democratic majority in both houses, it stands a better chance — though not a sure one — of passing.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.