Viewpoint

Ignore the Card Check Debate


I don't care if Jon has been cheating on Kate. I don't care about Rush Limbaugh. I don't care that Adam Lambert lost American Idol. Speaking of Adam Lambert, I don't care about gay marriage.

Sure, like everyone else, I have an opinion about these issues. Jon should keep it in his pants. Rush is just an entertainer. Adam Lambert will still have a successful career. Gay people should be allowed to get married wherever they want.

But in the end, these national conversations may not impact as much of our population as you might imagine. Just like the latest one to face employers: the upcoming vote on the Employee Free Choice Act.

What Is EFCA, Anyway?

What? You're a business owner and you've never heard of the big EFCA debate? Shame on you! Go ahead and google EFCA, and you'll see you're missing out on a lot of fuss.

Let me catch you up. While the rest of us are going about our business, a new bill, known mostly for its so-called card check component, is working its way through Congress. It is intended to allow employees working at companies with more than $500,000 in annual revenue to organize themselves into a union more easily than in the past. As it stands now, an employer can make employees take a closed-ballot vote (whereby an employee can cast his vote without fear of having his legs broken). The new legislation lets union organizers form a union if they can persuade employees to fill out a pro-union card. This means that a wavering employee can be pressured by his co-workers to sign on the dotted line, instead of keeping his vote private. Tony Soprano would love this kind of stuff.

And so do the unions. With a Democratic majority in the House and the Senate, they see a chance to reverse decades of membership decline.

Granted, some business owners are furious. They don't like losing the ability to force a closed vote. And they also don't like another part of the legislation which appoints a government representative to make the decisions if the two sides can't agree. Having a bureaucrat deciding on the direction of one of their biggest income statement line items wasn't what they signed up for when they decided to become independent business owners.

But you'd think a lot more business owners in this country would be fired up. They're forcing unionization on us! They're taking away our control! More government intervention! Sound the alarm!

What's EFCA Got to Do with Me?

And yet, besides a few loud voices, most of us don't really care. When I asked a few fellow small business owners recently about this legislation, many of them told me they never heard of it. And for the record, Jon and Kate's marriage wasn't on their minds either.

Why aren't most of us getting riled up? For starters, EFCA appears to affect only a small portion of us. According to the most recent numbers from the SBA (they're from 2004, but that's pretty darn recent for the government), there are 27 million small businesses in this country. Six million actually employed people. And the number of these establishments that had more than 100 employees? About 124,000. That's about 2% of all businesses who employed people and .004% of all companies in this country.

There are about 5.8 million businesses with less than 100 employees. And of these, about 5.7 million are under 20 employees. I don't know any business owners employing less than 20 people that have even heard of EFCA legislation, let alone would be affected. And I'm guessing most business owners with less than 100 employees would also be little impacted. EFCA is just not something that's taking the small business community by storm. Score one for the bill's supporters.

Next reason few business owners care: It's 2009, not 1909. Sweatshops and child labor just aren't cool any more. Business owners who know what they're doing value good employees. We fight hard to keep them and invest heavily in the right people. We know that in this age of technology and communications we can easily lose good people to our competitors. If a group of employees feel the need to unionize themselves at a business, then something's not right. Someone's not doing their job. Someone's not being treated right. I'm betting this will happen in places where employees don't have a lot of employment choices, somewhere rural, for example. Score another for the EFCA people.

A Pointless Debate

With these advantages you'd think that the EFCA bill would breeze through Congress. But it hasn't. In fact, it's weakening. Why? Because most of us, business owners or not, have understood that the glory days of the unions faded away the moment Jack Nicholson portrayed Jimmy Hoffa. We know that the unions contribute heavily to the Democratic party. We know that they're looking for some kind of return on their investment. And the EFCA bill does just that. I know a lot of people who work in companies with unions who question the value of paying union dues. Many even sympathize with their employers when they see such a blatant political maneuver. Democratic politicians realize this. Even as I type, at least one political blog has pronounced the bill dead. The bill, particularly its card check provisions, is being watered down.

In the end, however, is the EFCA debate really worth the fuss? Shouldn't unions that want to boost membership recognize they have to change the kinds of services they offer to current and potential members? Shouldn't the small business advocacy groups choose to spend their time on issues that affect more than 2% of small businesses, like pushing the government to help provide better financing and opening up new markets for us?

EFCA's dying, thank goodness. Let's hope the same doesn't happen to Jon and Kate's marriage. In the end, though, most business owners don't care about either.

Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at www.quickerbetterwiser.com.

Gene_marks
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsize businesses. Marks is the author of four best-selling small business books and writes the popular "Penny Pincher's Almanac" syndicated column. He frequently speaks to business groups on penny-pinching topics. More penny-pinching advice from Marks can be found at www.quickerbetterwiser.com.

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