EPI News

Why workers need unions, and better laws protecting their rights to organize

Much of the debate over The Employee Free Choice Act has centered on whether employers are actively undermining workers’ attempts to organize. On May 20, EPI and the American Rights at Work Education Fund published the research paper No Holds Barred –The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing, by Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner. The paper documents how a majority of employers had used some sort of intimidation to block unions from forming, and often resorted to illegal tactics such as firing pro-union workers.

Bronfenbrenner’s study, released at a standing-room-only event on Capitol Hill, was based on a random sample of more than 1,000 unionization elections between 1999 and 2003. In what is some of the most extensive research on the topic to date, No Holds Barred found that 34% of the companies in the survey had fired pro-union workers and 47% had threatened to cut wages and benefits of workers trying to organize. Bronfenbrenner maintains that these tactics are working, at least for employers, and help explain why the portion of unionization in the U.S. workforce has dropped to about 12.4% today, from 22% three decades ago.

The Huffington Post covered the story and quoted EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey explaining why it was so important to have data backing up claims of employer intimidation. “Employer groups don’t believe the victims (of union-busting), the workers,” Eisenbrey said. “Despite a difficult burden of proof, unions are winning 45% of allegations.”

Immigration for Shared Prosperity
As the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and other publications reported in April, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win have adopted five principles for immigration policy that form the basis of EPI’s Immigration for Shared Prosperity: A Framework for Comprehensive Reform. At a time of rising unemployment and diminishing job security among American workers, immigration’s role in the labor market has become the subject of increased attention.

EPI has been widely recognized for its leadership in advocating a better immigration policy. Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America’s Voice, said EPI has been “the driving force behind the breakthrough agreement that united the labor movement in favor of immigration reform. Sharry added: “If we as a nation are going to modernize our immigration policies in a way that balances the need to order immigration flows with the need to reduce income inequality, then advocates and policy makers alike will need EPI at the table.”

Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza also recognized EPI for adding “some policy and substantive heft to discussing some of the most complex policy questions surrounding immigration reform.”

The timetable for action is uncertain, but as AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “As a part of broad-based economic recovery, we need a comprehensive solution–and soon. The development of a unified labor position, a position centered on workers’ rights, puts us on the path to a legislative solution.”

Proposals to tax health insurance benefits could hurt children
On May 28, Elise Gould, EPI’s director of Health Policy Research, released the paper, How Capping The Tax Exclusion May Disproportionately Burden Children And Families, outlining how proposals to tax employer-sponsored health care benefits could significantly lower the quality and increase the cost of health care for families. Taxing health care premiums could result not only in higher out-of-pocket costs for family plans, but also in cutbacks in the benefits covered for children.

In the news
EPI Research and Policy Director John Irons defended President Obama’s tax policies in a heated debate on CNBC on May 13. To those who maintain that imposing higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans will stall an economic recovery, Irons argued that many of the same critics attacked President Clinton’s tax policies 16 years ago, only to witness a period of record economic growth.

On May 20, EPI hosted a daylong symposium, Labor Shortages and Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Experts explored how to define, measure, and develop policy to account for worker shortages in certain occupations.

The symposium concluded with a discussion of best immigration practices from around the world. EPI supports the creation of an independent commission to determine future flows of immigrants based on labor market needs. It also maintains that an effective worker authorization mechanism, rational control of borders, a change in the status of unauthorized immigrants so they can pursue a path to citizenship, as well as an overhaul of the temporary worker program are all essential components of an effective U.S. immigration strategy. The program agenda and presentations can be found here.

On May 28, EPI hosted an education forum examining the issue of performance-based pay for teachers. Debra Viadero from Education Week moderated a panel that included Richard Rothstein, Scott Adams, and John Heywood, authors of Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability, the first book in EPI’s series on Alternative Teacher Compensation Systems.

On June 2, EPI’s Elise Gould will participate in a panel at the Urban Institute, Is There a Fair Way to Cap the Tax Exclusion of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance? The panel will examine the inequities likely to result from a policy that imposes taxes on employer-sponsored insurance and consider whether such inequities could be avoided.

On June 10, EPI’s Bailout Analysis Project holds the first in a series of forums on the federal response to the collapse of the financial system. Although news of the financial crisis has been dominated by a handful of mega-banks deemed too big to fail, the U.S. banking system is actually dominated by independent community banks — more than 8,000 of them, with 50,000 locations across the country. In Small Enough to Fail: Community Banks in the Bailout, the expert panel will explain how the government’s response to the crisis is making big banks bigger while putting small banks at a disadvantage and discuss the implications for the stability of the financial system. For more information on this event, contact Nancy Cleeland at ncleeland@epi.org.