Las Vegas Sun

November 29, 2014

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House to vote on how workers are allowed to unionize

WASHINGTON - A Las Vegas single mom's efforts to form a union at her place of employment has become Exhibit A in the Democrats' efforts today to rewrite labor law.

Anishya Sanders started organizing fellow workers after struggling to make ends meet on the $11 an hour she earned as a flagman at Las Vegas construction sites, where she worked alongside unionized flagmen from other companies earning twice as much.

She persuaded a majority of co-workers at All Pro Traffic Control to sign up for the union in January. In the weeks that followed, she said, her employer harassed and intimidated workers, even threatening to close the company before raising their pay.

Democrats, backed by organized labor, say the Employee Free Choice Act that the House is scheduled to vote on today would end those kinds of abuses.

At issue is whether employees officially signal their intention to organize at the moment they sign up to unionize, or whether they must later vote by secret ballot. Current law give management the right to require elections.

Republicans say balloting is the only way to ensure that employees are not unfairly pressured by unions to sign up. Democrats and unions argue that the time that elapses between signing up and elections gives companies a chance to harass and even fire employees who favor organizing.

"These workers should be free from intimidation and free from illegal or unfair restrictions on their right to organize," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who supports the bill. Berkley plans to discuss the plight of Sanders and her co-workers during remarks today on the House floor.

Employees have been fired in one-fourth of all private-sector organizing campaigns, according to the AFL-CIO.

If signed into law, the legislation would make one of the most significant changes to labor law in decades, said Fred Freilicher, a labor expert and an adjunct law professor at George Washington University.

The legislation appears headed for House approval, but winning the 60 votes necessary in the Senate will be more difficult, given that Democrats hold just 51 of the 100 seats. President Bush has said he would veto the bill.

Republicans argue that the bill is Democratic payback to labor for its years of support - $500 million in campaign contributions to Democratic candidates since the party fell to the minority in the House in 1994.

Nevada Republican Reps. Dean Heller and Jon Porter have said they will vote against the legislation.

"I think there are areas that need to be improved," Porter said Wednesday. "Both sides have a tendency, not in all cases, but in some unique cases, they do cause some intimidation." But he said the Democratic legislation "goes way too far."

Union membership nationwide has fallen steadily in recent decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Twelve percent of American workers were union members last year, down from 20 percent in 1983.

But Nevada bucks the trend. Nearly 15 percent of workers were union members in 2006, up from nearly 14 percent in 2005.

At All Pro Traffic Control, Sanders said that after she collected signatures from co-workers, management fired some of them and cut her hours. She said she no longer believes the company will organize. She says she understands her co-workers' reluctance: "You value your job, even if it's crappy."

A representative from the company did not return a phone call from the Sun.