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England Once Voted For Change - Her Name Was Margaret Thatcher...

So, here we are - a week away, and regardless of what happens in the presidential election, change of a historic nature is going to happen.  Many of the proposed legislative changes that may result (the Paycheck Fairness Act, the ENDA, etc.) give me cause for pause as a business person due to increased governmental oversight.  Oddly enough, I'm OK with most of the employment-related ones as a HR pro. 

The reason I'm OK with those proposed changes as a HR pro?  Every company I've ever worked for has alwaysThatcher strived to be better than the law in those areas.  No situation is ever perfect, but when good people try to do the right thing, increased legislation isn't generally a big deal in the employment law arena.  There's always some cost to defend frivolous claims, but hey, that's business.  The laws are consistent with how most of us treat people (which is to say fairly), and laws generally get written for 10% of the population.  Play on.

But, there's one bill that is in direct opposition to treating employees fairly, even though the name suggests otherwise - The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Proposed by the Democratic party, the EFCA will actually remove the right to a confidential vote for/against a union representing workers in the workplace.  It doesn't give rights to individual employees, it actually takes them away.

Is that American?  You make the call.  I'm moderate in a lot of things, and the only way I can say that's American is that a huge special interest group (the unions, surprise!) has funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Democratic party to make this special interest law a reality.

If it passes, we only need to look to our friends across the pond, and to Margaret Thatcher, to see what happens next.  Why am I bringing up Margaret Thatcher?  She was another historic election winner, serving as the Prime Minister of England from 1979 to 1990, and remains the first and only woman to date to hold the post.  Sound familiar?

Claire Berlinski isn’t an expert on labor unions, she’s an expert on Margaret Thatcher. Learn from history in Berlinski's great article in the City Journal regarding Thatcher’s 1980 Employment Act. Berlinski writes:

When Thatcher was elected in 1979, Britain had just endured a winter of discontent—a season of strikes and trade union agitation so severe that the nation stood effectively paralyzed. Food supplies were interrupted, whole industries choked, and exports fell. “We don’t want to increase our trade with you,” said the Soviet trade minister to his British counterpart. “You’re always on strike.” Rubbish piled up on the streets that winter; at one point, so did human corpses. This was what had become of a nation that was once the world’s greatest trading power.

For obvious reasons, Thatcher put reform of the trade union law at the top of her agenda. Among the key provisions of Britain’s 1980 Employment Act was a change in the way government would recognize unions. At the time, workers voted to join unions—or not—in public, by voice vote. Dissenters suffered harassment and physical intimidation. Henceforth, Thatcher decided, new union membership agreements would require approval by means of a secret ballot in order to protect rank-and-file workers from bullying by union organizers. If allowed to vote secretly, she believed, ordinary workers would not vote for policies against their long-term interests—such as pay raises so incommensurate with production as to render British businesses uncompetitive, or strikes so prolonged as to make even the Soviets unwilling to buy British goods.

I don't claim to know the impact of the EFCA on the economy.  I know the law is bad for employees and companies, in that order.  It's a classic special interest, overreaching grab that runs counter to many things the Democratic party has always stood for.  Remember what it means to you and your employees when you vote as a HR pro.

If the EFCA is signed into law?  I suspect we'll see another change agent down the road who rises and restores the right to a confidential vote for/against union representation back to the employee.

Could be 4 years from now, could be 20.  That's the scary part.   

Comments

Das Kapitalist

Thanks for raising this key area. I have 3 main points to raise with you related to this...

1. I spend 50% of my time in the US and what is being proposed is not widely reported or understood. But it is incredible to think that the US is even thinking about taking a step that would relegate it to a status that is sub-Britain in the 1970s

2. As the election approaches my real fear is of a Democrat controlled presidency, house, and senate. That will leave the way wide open to more infringements on the workings of private organisations, and help make public organisations even more ineffective. Politicians playing with the economy is exactly what got us into this mess - and you get the feeling when you see guys like Barney Frank talking, that this is their payback time after years of capitalist ascendancy. EFCA will just be the first step - more to follow, I promise.

3. The US is a tough place to do business, whether given its immigration laws, tax rates, licensing (in NY you even need a license to be a hairdresser), etc. At this potential tipping point on the economic see-saw, the US can't afford another brake working on its economic power house.

I've managed to avoid the issue of pseudo-corruption whereby Democrat politicians take money from the unions and then promote policies that would bolster the unions. Another day...But no other country in the world is moving in this direction, so there is a certain - but expensive - irony that the US, the land of the free, is.

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