Area employers heard about a labor issue - the Employee Free Choice Act -- that may have a significant impact on their businesses at a meeting held earlier this month at the Heritage Golf Club.

Area employers heard about a labor issue - the Employee Free Choice Act -- that may have a significant impact on their businesses at a meeting held earlier this month at the Heritage Golf Club.

The meeting was sponsored by Sutphen Corporation and promoted by the Hilliard Area Chamber of Commerce.

The event featured former speaker of the Ohio House Jo Ann Davidson and representatives of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association. About 30 people representing more than two dozen businesses in different sectors of the economy attended.

The OMA is working with the 15th Congressional District Advocacy Team to communicate to 15th district Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy how the EFCA will hurt employers she represents in the hopes that she would denounce the legislation. The 15th Congressional District Advocacy Team consists of local businesses Sutphen, BST Company, Emerson Network Power Systems, Honda of America Manufacturing, Plaskolite Inc., Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, Stanley Electric U.S. Company Inc., Tosoh USA, and Worthington Industries.

The meeting was one of a series about the "pending threat" of EFCA and other legislation like paid sick leave that may affect employers, said OMA Managing Director of Public Policy Services Ryan Augsburger.

"We are encouraging employers who are concerned to use tools to communicate with (Kilroy and other members of Congress) and their workforce," Augsburger said, "and urging employers to talk with their customers, with their suppliers about how this would be detrimental to their business in Ohio and this country."

The EFCA, also known as "card check," is a bill that would amend the National Labor Relations Act "to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts, and for other purposes," according to its title. It was first introduced in 2007, initially passing the House of Representatives, but did not pass during the 110th United States Congress. The current bill was introduced this spring by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) with 40 co-sponsors and Rep. George Miller (D-Cal.), with Kilroy among its 228 mostly Democrat co-sponsors. H.R. 1409 and S. 560 (the Senate version of the bill) was referred to committees shortly after being introduced and may be debated in the House and Senate next year. It is supported by President Obama, most Democrats and labor unions, and opposed by many Republicans and businesses.

According to the Web site OpenCongress.org, "Under the bill, workers would be able to decide whether to hold a secret ballot vote on union formation after a majority of employees have signed union authorization cards, or to have the union certified based on the cards alone. Under the current rules, employers have the power to make that decision. The bill also designates a time line for first contracts to be drawn up between unions and employees and stipulates that if no deal is reached within 120 days, an arbitration panel will render a decision that will be binding for two years. Finally, it would increase the fines employers must pay if found guilty of violating their employees' right to unionize."

Augsburger explained the opposition to what he termed "the so-called" Employee Free Choice Act.

"Part of the proposal would take away the secret ballot that has existed in labor organizing for half a century as long as they've got 50 percent plus-one of the number of employees having signed a card, then that company is to begin unionization, is required to begin collective bargaining."

An arbitrator who doesn't know anything about a company may be involved in that process, which may cause further problems, Augsburger said.

"This would be ill-advised for our competitiveness. That's what it's all about for the OMA: Everything we do is based on keeping Ohio competitive not just for manufacturing but in general for business. We believe that this entire radical labor agenda - we call it radical, because these are the most sweeping changes to the labor-management balance that we've had in half a century. It's important that employers take note and express their concerns."

If enacted, Augsburger said the EFCA "would greatly reduce the flexibility needed among today's modern employers, and that makes Ohio a much less cost-effective place to conduct business. We feel it would have a devastating effect on our economy. It's totally the wrong time to be considering these kinds of things."

Union membership is at a historical low, Augsburger said. "As a result, culturally, there's not a lot of understanding of what can come with a union. I don't mean to suggest that it's all bad, but one of the things that comes with it is work rules that can restrict what an employee can do. That's so harmful in today's economy. Almost every business is so flexible and changes on the fly more than what it used to when you had this job that did this function. There's so much working together and team orientation in manufacturing and so many other industries (now that EFCA) would be the kiss of death."

Augsburger said a Web site (www.weareohioans.com) offers more of the OMA's position on EFCA.

Rep. Kilroy did not return a request for comment on the EFCA last week, while the 111th Congress was still in session.

In the December 2008 edition of the Ohio AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Unions) newsletter The Worker's Voice, an article titled "Why We Need the Employee Free Choice Act" states, "Big Business and the front groups set up by corporations are preparing an all-out, $200 million propaganda and lobbying war to block (EFCA)."

The article goes on to make its case for the EFCA:

"Unions make people's lives better. The freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life is a basic human right, and it makes a difference: Union members make 30 percent more than workers who don't have unions. They're 59 percent more likely to have health benefits and four times more likely to have pensions...

"Communities with strong unions have higher standards of living for everyone. But the system is broken. More than 60 million workers who don't have a union would join one if they could. But under existing law, corporations essentially have a veto over the process. In our company-dominated system, workers can be intimidated, coerced and even fired by their bosses for trying to form a union. A decision that should be in the hands of workers is instead in the hands of corporate executives.

"The Employee Free Choice Act doesn't just matter for workers who are trying to form a union. When more workers are in unions, workers have the strength in numbers they need to demand good wages and good benefits across communities and industries. That helps all workers bargain for better contracts and counterbalance corporate power.

"The Employee Free Choice Act means long-term shared prosperity. The Employee Free Choice Act is essential to rebuilding the middle class and ensuring the survival of the American Dream. We can build an economy that works for everyone if workers can exercise the freedom to form unions."