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Maine IBEW Member Speaks out on
Why Workers Need Arbitration

August 10, 2009

For workers who want to join a union, sometimes organizing is the easy part.

According to Cornell University’s Kate Bronfenbrenner, 52 percent of workers who form a union are without a contract a year later and 37 percent still don’t have one after two years. And without a contract, a union has no ability to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

That’s why the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill currently in Congress that will make it easier for workers to join and form a union, includes a strong arbitration provision.

Under the act, if labor and management can’t agree on a contract within 120 days after a successful union election, a government arbitrator will step in to settle an agreement.

Machester, Maine Local 1837 member Rodney Curtis knows firsthand why arbitration is needed.

According to a story from the Associated Press:

Labor advocates argue the struggle some workers face to get a contract months or even years after voting for a union is a central reason that arbitration needs to be part of the bill.

That was the complaint at Central Maine Power Co. when professional workers voted to join a union in 2006. Workers said managers used classic stalling tactics that ended only when a National Labor Relations Board office said the company was not bargaining in good faith. A company spokesman declined to comment.

"We had 18 months of just banging your head against the wall and the company just sitting there, not willing to hear you out," said Rodney Curtis, a design technician at the power company in Augusta, Maine.

Local 1837 was finally able to win a contract, but most workers in similar situations aren’t so lucky. Work force turnover and frustration with the inability to get a contract causes many union elections to be overturned.

Anti-union forces, which have spent years lobbying against the Employee Free Choice Act, are now directing their fire against arbitration, spending millions to pressure senators to kill the bill’s provision.

For months, business groups focused on fighting "card check," which would allow employees to form a union by signing cards instead of holding secret ballot election … Arbitration now looms as (the Employee Free Choice Act’s) most prominent sticking point. Anti-union groups, already spending millions on television advertising, direct mail and lobbying campaigns against the bill, have tweaked their message to stress how damaging they believe arbitration will be to employers.

To read more about why arbitration is important to helping workers bargain for a fair contract, click here.