Guilds backing labor measure

Senate vote due on card-check bill

Hollywood unions are backing so-called card-check legislation that is set for a U.S. Senate vote today, with the WGA particularly keen on the bill following its failure to win WGA status for strikers at "America's Next Top Model."

That situation, in which the strikers ended up losing their jobs after show producers demanded a lengthier organizing process, might have ended differently had the legislation been in effect, guild officials believe.

Introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., with 46 co-sponsors, the Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate the need for a lengthy union-certification process to secure workers' collective-bargaining rights. The WGA West and East, SAG, AFTRA and the DGA all have signaled their support of the bill.

"(T)he guilds and unions strongly support the Employee Free Choice Act that would allow workers a chance to collectively negotiate with their employers for a better livelihood, positively impacting American workers, including creative artists, and their families," the labor groups said. "This legislation would ensure that workers are allowed a free choice and a fair chance to form a union by leveling the playing field with employers. An affirmative Senate vote will send a strong signal that organized labor is winning the fight on union rights."

The bill would stiffen penalties for hindering workers in organizing activities and provide mediation and arbitration during negotiations and disputes. Most notably, the legislation would allow employees to join unions by signing authorization cards instead of holding a certification election.

A bargaining unit could be created through a simple card-check procedure, with organizers presenting to employers the authorization cards from a majority of workers. Current law gives employers the option of rejecting such cards and calling for a National Labor Relations Board election.

"The Employee Free Choice Act helps mend America's dysfunctional bargaining system by supplying workers with necessary tools to make their own voices heard, without the obstacles of corporate interference," the guilds said.

The House approved the bill in a 241-185 vote March 1.

President Bush has threatened a veto. Other opponents, which include many top business leaders, have argued that secret NLRB elections are needed to prevent workers from being coerced into joining unions.

At "Top Model," strikers signed cards to join the WGA, but show producers demanded an NLRB election.

IATSE also filed with the NLRB to represent the striking workers, contending that its representation of "Top Model" editors should be extended to include the writer-producers. As things turned out, the strikers lost their jobs in a restructuring of the show's production.