First Contract Arbitration and the Employee Free Choice Act
One provision of the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would address the catastrophic underenforcement of the statutory right of employees to bargain, which results in half of all newly certified or recognized unions failing to secure a first collective bargaining agreement. It is an important reform for a seriously dysfunctional aspect of federal labor law and it will be a substantial improvement over the status quo. While political and media conversation surrounding EFCA has largely focused on the changing the process by which unions are selected, the provision for first contract arbitration is as important to the protection of the right to unionize.
This Article argues that some form of mandatory interest arbitration for first contract disputes is an appropriate means of stabilizing employee-management relations given the extraordinary difficulties that unions currently experience in negotiating first contracts, the weakness of current NLRB and economic remedies, and the rippling effects of these difficulties on nascent unions. The Article surveys the empirical literature on the operation of interest arbitration in the public and private sector in the United States and in Canada and demonstrates that interest arbitration would increase the incentive for employers to negotiate in good-faith and make reasonable proposals. The Article shows that none of the alternative reforms to the law of collective bargaining and to NLRB procedures for protecting the right to bargain will be effective in addressing failures to bargain to a first contract. The Article also demonstrates that a statutory requirement of first contract arbitration is well within Congress’ power and does not represent an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.