Election 2008: Is there a new day at hand for labor rights in the U.S.?

Labor union members and workers looking for economic change voted in large numbers for Barak Obama this month. The union vote helped secure white middle-class voters for Obama in battleground industrial states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, reports Reuters.

For the past couple of decades, union membership in the United States has rapidly declined, leading to slipping workforce power and fewer benefits for employees. Many labor unions are hoping that the incoming Democratic leadership will help workers increase power with employers. 

First up on labor's agenda will be the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which unions say will help to restore balance between workers in their negotiations with employers. Current labor laws make it very difficult for workers to form unions, and are tilted largely to benefit employers. The EFCA would level the playing field and make it easier for workers to unionize and punish employers who interfere with the process. It forbids employers from demanding a secret ballot election when a majority of employees have signed union cards. It also makes employers who unlawfully terminate pro-union employees pay three times back pay.

The act was introduced in 2003 and won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2007, but a Republican filibuster prevented it from coming up for a vote in the Senate. Facing South reported on the Senate vote back in June 2007. The big question is if backers will have the 60 or more Senate votes to end an expected Republican-led filibuster this time around, Reuters reports.

Moreover, the EPCA will also be a very important legislation for the labor movement in the South. As Facing South previously reported:
The ability to form unions corresponds with higher pay for workers. In states that have laws restricting workers' rights to form strong unions, many of which are in the South, the average pay for all workers is lower. States with these so-called "right to work" for less laws limit workers' rights to collectively bargain contracts (including wages and benefits). In 2004, average pay in so-called "right to work" states was 14.4 percent lower than in states where workers have the freedom to form strong unions. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia all have these anti-worker laws on the books.