Business leery of employee-rights bill

An Employees Free Choice Act button

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KAI RYSSDAL: The classic definition of recession is two straight quarters of a shrinking GDP, even though noboby goes by that anymore. Still, we've only had one quarter of negative economic growth, so by that very academic measurement -- nope, not a recession. There are a million more things we could've thrown on that list but, hey, the show only lasts half an hour.

Today's Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, ran about 48 pages. And it had Wal-Mart in its crosshairs right on Page 1. The Journal's reporting that the biggest company in the country has politics on its mind. It says that in the past few weeks Wal-Mart has warned thousands of supervisors about the economic peril of a Democratic win this fall. That that would make it easier for workers to unionize and hurt the bottom line.

At a time when companies are already struggling with high fuel costs and a slow economy, Marketplace's Steve Henn reports Wal-Mart's not the only one worried about labor getting organized.


STEVE HENN: Business groups have chipped in $50 million to fight the Employee Free Choice Act. Barack Obama backs the bill, and opponents fear a new Congress will pass it. Glenn Spencer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says if the bill becomes law, there would be some big economic consequences.

Glenn Spencer: Well, there is little doubt that you would see a pretty widespread increase in union organizing efforts -- and particularly, we think, among small businesses. There is certainly a potential to see labor costs rise.

Right now, though, unemployment is rising, wages are stagnating, and most unions are hemorrhaging members. In fact . . .

Jared Bernstien: American workers have been facing steadily declining real wages and squeezed paychecks.

Jared Bernstien at the Economic Policy Institute says American workers don't have the clout right now to bargain for cost-of-living increases. But Jeffery Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, thinks wage hikes could be just around the corner.

Jeffrey Rubin: Now people might scoff at that notion, saying that in today's world that's untenable, facing the onslaught of cheap labor from China. But I think that's yesterday's world.

Rubin believes sky-high oil and shipping costs are making U.S. goods more competitive at home. That, along with reinvigorated unions, could help workers in a range of businesses, from furniture to steel, win wage concessions. But policymakers and businesses fear a jump in wages would usher in a return to 70s-style inflation.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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