Employee Free Choice Act: Historians Petition Congress

Employee Free Choice Act: Historians Petition Congress

Employee Free Choice Act: Historians Petition Congress

Editor’s Note: The following was sent by a group of historians to Congress on March 18

To the Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned historians, feel a special obligation to speak out on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act. In our courses, we describe how freedom of association became a prized American right and how, for working people, freedom of association became a reality when the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 granted them a protected right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. Students know this. It’s in the New Deal chapter of every textbook. So for them, it comes as a shock to discover when they enter the working world that they don’t dare exercise the rights the law says they have. And it’s up to us, as historians, to explain why they have been so badly let down.

The labor law, although amended and interpreted over many years, is still conditioned by a grand bargain made in 1935: the state would rule with a light hand if employers complied in good faith. That bargain once worked reasonably well, but no longer. In recent years, employers have taken to fighting the law at every turn. They have, in effect, withdrawn their consent, and it is no longer true that workers can exercise the rights the law says they have. NLRB elections have fallen by half in the past decade, and only a trickle of workers—about 30,000 in 2007—now gain collective bargaining through NLRB certification. The law is grinding to a halt. And, what is equally bad, we have a major act on the books that dishonors the rule of law in this country.

The remedies, however, are easily within reach. First: increase the penalties on employers who commit unfair labor practices and provide swift injunctive relief for victimized workers. Second: make employers who flout their duty to bargain (which they do, successfully, in nearly half of all first-contract negotiations) subject to a mediation/arbitration process. Third: enable workers to demonstrate their support for collective bargaining by signing authorization cards and thereby insulate them from the employer coercion that accompanies—and is given a platform by–the representation election.

These three provisions constitute the Employee Free Choice Act. It is legislation that deserves the support of every Senator and Representative who believes in the purposes of our labor law, which are, as it said 1935 and still says today, to protect “the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”

We quote these words to our students. We’d like to believe they have meaning today. So we, the undersigned historians, support the Employee Free Choice Act and urge Congress to pass it this session.

Joseph Abel, Rice University

Steven Attewell, University of California, Santa Barbara

Bill Barry, Community College of Baltimore County

Rachel Batch, Widener University

Matthew Basso, University of Utah

David Bensman, Rutgers University

Charles Bergquist, University of Washington

Hy Berman, University of Minnesota (Emeritus)

Matthew Bewig, University of Florida

Eileen Boris, University of California, Santa Barbara

Kevin Boyle, Ohio State University

Robert L. Brandfon, College of the Holy Cross (Emeritus)

Stephen Brier, City University of New York

David Brody, University of California-Davis

Jennifer E. Brooks, Auburn University

Sean Burns, University of California, Santa Cruz

Michael Robert Bussel, University of Oregon

Daniel Clark, Oakland University (Michigan)

Shannan W. Clark, Montclair State University

Ina Clausen, University of California

Bruce Cohen, Worcester State College

Deborah Cohen, University of Missouri, St. Louis

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

Peter Cole, Western Illinois University

Patricia Cooper, University of Kentucky

Michael Denning, Yale University

Alan Derickson, Pennsylvania State University

Victor G. Devinatz, Illinois State University

Thomas Dublin, State University of New York, Binghamton

Melvyn Dubofsky, State University of New York, Binghamton

Cassandra Engeman, University of California, Santa Barbara

Beth English, Princeton University

John Enyeart, Bucknell University

Jack Epstein, Ohio University

Leon Fink, University of Illinois, Chicago

Eric Foner, Columbia University

Kenneth Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University

Dana Frank, University of California, Santa Cruz

Mary O. Furner, University of California, Santa Barbara

Joshua B. Freeman, City University of New York

Eric Fure-Slocum, St. Olaf College

Nancy F. Gabin, Purdue University

Roberta Gold, Fordham University

Linda Gordon, New York University

Elliott Gorn, Brown University

Daniel A. Graff, University of Notre Dame

Brian Greenburg, Monmouth University

Julie Greene, University of Maryland

James N. Gregory, University of Washington

Trevor Griffey, University of Washington

Michelle Haberland, Georgia Southern University

Cindy Hahamovitch, College of William and Mary

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Brian Harding, Mott Community College (MI)

Donna T. Haverty-Stacke, Hunter College, City University of New York

Tobias Higbie, University of California, Los Angeles

Susan Hirsch, Loyola University, Chicago

Nate Holdren, University of Minnesota

Darryl Holter, University of Southern California

Michael Honey, University of Washington, Tacoma

George Hopkins, College of Charleston

Joseph Hower, Georgetown University

Bill Issel, San Francisco State University (Emeritus)

Maurice Jackson, Georgetown University

Stanford Jacoby, University of California, Los Angeles

Alison Jaggar, University of Colorado, Boulder (Philosophy)

Elizabeth Jameson, University of Calgary

Dolores Janiewski, Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand)

Moon-Ho Jung, University of Washington

Daniel Katz, State University of New York, Empire State College

Harvey Kaye, University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

Linda K. Kerber, University of Iowa

Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University

Alexander Keyssar, Harvard University

Jennifer Klein, Yale University

Kitty Krupat, Joseph S. Murphy Institute, City University of New York

Elizabeth Lamoree University of California, Santa Barbara

Bruce Laurie, University of Massachusetts

Mark Lause, University of Cincinnati

Andrew H. Lee, New York University, Bobst Library

Steve Leikin, San Francisco State University

Susan Levine, University of Illinois, Chicago

Alex Lichtenstein, Florida International University

Nelson Lichtenstein, University of California Santa Barbara

John P. Lloyd, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

Erik Loomis, Southwestern University

James J. Lorence, University of Wisconsin, Marathon County

Jennifer Luff, University of California, Irvine

Gordon K. Mantler, Duke University

Tara Martin, University of New Mexico

Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University

Laurie Mercier, Washington State University, Vancouver

Steve Meyer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Ruth Milkman, University of California Los Angeles (Sociology)

David Montgomery, Yale University

Bethany Moreton, University of Georgia

Laura Murphy, Dutchess Community College

Michelle Nacy, University of Washington, Tacoma

Roxanne Newton Mitchell Community College (NC)

Mai Ngai, Columbia University

Otto Olsen, Northern Illinois University

John S. Olszowka, Mercyhurst College

Liesl Orenic, Dominican University (IL)

Fraser Ottanelli, University of South Florida

Grace Palladino, University of Maryland

Kimberly Phillips, College of William and Mary

Lisa Phillips, Indiana State University

Michael C. Pierce, University of Arkansas

Peter Rachleff, Macalester College

Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh

Patricia A. Reeve, Suffolk University (MA)

Jan Reiff, University of California Los Angeles

Jacob Remes, Duke University

Robert Reutenauer, Middlesex Community College

John L. Revitte, Michigan State University

David Roediger, University of Illinois

Leslie S. Rowland, University of Maryland, College Park

Francis Ryan, Moravian College

Scott Saul, University of California, Berkeley

Robert Schaffer, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Ellen Schrecker, Yeshiva University

Harvey Schwartz, San Francisco State University

Rebecca Sharpless, Texas Christian University

Elizabeth Shermer, University of California, Santa Barbara

Nikhil Pal Singh, University of Washington

Aiden J. Smith, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

José A. Soler, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Theodore Steinberg, Case Western Reserve University

Marc Stern, Bentley University

Randi Storch, State University of New York, Cortland

Landon Storrs, University of Houston

David Suisman, University of Delaware

Kerry Taylor, The Citadel

Heather Ann Thompson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Laura Vapnek, St. John’s University

Zaragosa Vargas, University of California, Santa Barbara

L. J. Andrew Villalon, University of Texas, Austin

Daniel J. Walkowitz, New York University

Devra Weber, University of California, Riverside

Seth Wigderson, University of Maine at Augusta

Charles Williams, University of Washington, Tacoma

James Wolfinger, DePaul University

Charles A. Zappia, San Diego Mesa College

Robert Zieger, University of Florida

David Zonderman, University of South Carolina