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When Voting for a Union Is Only the Start of the Struggle
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 30, 2008

Here’s a tale told far too often: workers have come together to vote for a union, but don’t have a contract in their workplace.  Why?  Their employer unlawfully refuses to bargain with them and the National Labor Relations Board fails to enforce our weak labor law. 

Ten years after Goya Foods employees in Miami voted for a union, a circuit court judge ordered the company to finally negotiate a contract.  This is yet another example of why Congress must amend labor law to grant workers the right to first contract arbitration, ensuring that their vote for a union actually leads to a union contract.

Despite Goya’s illegal unionbusting tactics to dissuade workers from forming a union, Goya employees voted for representation with UNITE HERE in 1998.  The company promptly responded by firing union supporters, threatening to shut down the workplace, interrogating employees, refusing to bargain with the union, and withdrawing recognition of the union. 

In 2001, an administrative law judge found the company guilty of illegal retaliation and ordered it to bargain in good faith.  The company appealed the ruling, and after five years, the Labor Board finally issued a bargaining order.  Once again, the company appealed the order to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, arguing that too much time had passed for the bargaining order to be appropriate.  The judge ruled to enforce the order, though noting that the Board’s delay in the case “is of considerable concern.”

While the Goya employees should celebrate this legal victory, it remains to be seen whether the company will actually sit down and hammer out a contract with the union.  Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if employers illegally refuse to bargain with their employees, the NLRB can mandate mediation and binding arbitration instead of just telling them to please go back to bargaining.  Workers deserve results like that.