The Latino community should wholeheartedly get behind the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).  Introduced March 10, the bill has a majority of support in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, but business groups are spending heavily to make sure the Senate does not reach the 60 votes that it needs to survive a filibuster.

   EFCA is important because it levels the playing field for workers by ensuring a more democratic decision-making process that provides employees the room to be full partners with management.   At a minimum, democracy involves freedom of speech and freedom to organize collectively around issues.  In the case of workers, a minimum standard of democracy involves the ability of workers to discuss and debate amongst themselves free of harassment from either unions or corporate management as to whether they would like to join a union.  

   EFCA would reinvigorate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) giving workers additional protections to bargain collectively and join a union.  Time and again, we have witnessed that the current system for workers to form unions so as to bargain over wages and benefits is broken.  As a result, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would be better able to ensure that the processes regarding authorization forms are fair, thus preventing coercion from either side.

   In 2008, workers represented by unions earned a median weekly salary of $886. This compared to non-unionized workers, with median weekly earnings amounting to $691.  

  In particular, young men and women just entering the work world benefit from protections that collective bargaining provides.  

   Latinos are among the youngest population group in the United States. Their median age is 25.8 years – more than 10 years younger than that for the U.S. population as a whole. Also worth mention: they have more children and greater family stability. More than half are fully bilingual.  

   Needless to say, union membership would assist them not just in earning a livable wage. It could move many into jobs where they learn more skills, take on greater responsibilities gain added benefits

   Latino workers want to join unions.  Union membership, long in decline, actually increased in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual report. The unionized share of the U.S. workforce climbed to 12.4 percent last year from 12.1 percent in 2007, an increase of more than 420,000 members.

   While the gains were broadly shared across demographic lines and occupations, growth was strongest in the public sector, among Hispanics, and in Western states, driving the largest increase in more than a quarter of a century. More than 120,000 Hispanics became union members last year. Their membership rate rose nearly a full percent to 10.6 percent from 9.8 percent in 2007.

   EFCA offers workers added access to such benefits as health insurance and pensions. Management gains from the skill sets, contagious motivation and increased productivity that satisfied workers provide.  It follows that productive workers help companies grow profits and capital for further economic growth.

   As President Obama reminds us daily, the need to revitalize our communities is paramount. Urgent. Which communities will succeed in doing so?

   Where unions are stronger, not only are wages higher and health insurance more accessible; there are numerous other benefits.  In states with higher union density, it is more likely that poverty will be reduced. There will be more homeowners than renters and better schools because there is greater public education spending per pupil.  The three are inter-related.

  Together they bring an unintended benefit – a significant reduction in crime. Compare states where unions are strong with those where they’re weak. In the former, public dollars are more likely to go to schools and less likely to building jails.  

   By bolstering the middle class, educating our communities and ensuring they are healthy, we give people hope.  That’s the essence of the American Dream. The Employee Free Choice Act can help make it real again.

   [Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus is executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), with headquarters in Washington, D.C. Email: [email protected]]

©2009

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Andrea Vega / Redacción AL DÍA