Likely Business Targets Brace for Organizing Push From Unions

By Amy Lee

Mar. 6, 2009

R etailers, restaurants and health care facilities will be in unions’ cross hairs if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law.

    “Any kind of service industry will clearly be first on the hit list,” says bill critic Richard Epstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has consulted employer groups on the legislation.

    The common denominator for these industries, he notes, is that they can’t relocate to cheaper labor markets. So if the EFCA becomes law, “hotels, restaurants, any kind of industry where mobility is not an option will be forced to deal with wage rigidity and job rigidity.”

    Until now, unions have had only mixed success in organizing these sectors. But the “card check” legislation has some workers looking forward to a change.

    “Give us a choice and a voice,” says Shirley Brown, a housekeeper at Resurrection Health Care’s Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois, who has been pushing for six years to organize Resurrection’s 8,000 employees for AFSCME Council 31.

    Current law requires employees to gather pro-union signatures from a majority of workers. An employer can then either negotiate with the union or call an election. EFCA would give employees the right to determine whether an election is held. It also would stiffen penalties on employers who interfere with organizing efforts.

    “You should not be subjected to fear, harassment and intimidation because we want a voice,” says Brown, 50, who has worked at Westlake for 13 years.

    But restaurateur Glen Keefer worries the law would strain small-business owners already struggling in a weak economy. Keefer is part-owner of Keefer’s Restaurant, a Chicago-area steakhouse with 99 employees. He also runs Tavern at the Park, a restaurant near Millennium Park in Chicago with 80 employees.

    Keefer says he and his partners put on hold plans to open a third restaurant in 2009—partly because they were concerned about taking on more debt and partly because of the uncertainty over costs if the EFCA becomes law.

    “We don’t need a third party in between us and our employees who is extracting money from our employees for services that, frankly, they don’t need,” says Keefer, who says his workers get health care benefits and paid vacation time. “A third party could disrupt our working relationship and would raise costs for our employees and for us.”

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