THE LABOR REFORM ACT of 1978 is one of those pieces of legislation whose pluses and minuses are buried under the cloud of rhetoric that accompanies it. The bill is (depending on which version of the literature you prefer): a) a measure desperately needed to protect vital rights of working men and women from destruction by law-breaking and vindictive employers; b) a last-ditch effort by labor unions to bolster their sagging membership rolls by stacking the deck against workers who do not want to join unions; c) a relatively insignificant measure that tinkers with, but makes no monumental changes in, present law.
Regardless of which view is closest to the truth, the bill is going to be the major battleground between the unions and business organizations this year. Both sides, have already invested vast sums of money and lobbying power in the fight. More will be forthcoming as the time for the Senate to begin debate on the subject draws closer. Both sides, it seems to us, have staked far more on the bill than its merits deserve. Organized labor apears to regard its passage as the best way to retrieve at least part of the prestige it lost last year when the common situs picketing bill was defeated. Business groups seem to see the bill as an opportunity to demonstrate that the political clout the labor movement once had is slipping quickly away.
We do not intend to get into the specifics of this legislation just now. It is enough, for the moment, to say that the bill is mislabeled. It ought to be called the "Union Organizing Act of 1978." Most of its major provisions are aimed at making it easier for unions to organize new units. Some of these are aimed at well-documented problems, but others are not.Much of the rest of the bill involves procedural changes at the National Labor Relations Board. However, one major section would put the government in the business of blacklisting companies that are persistent violators of the labor laws.
Last fall, when the House passed its version of this act, we noted that we were less troubled by what the bill did than by what it failed to do. That is still true. Like the House, the Senate Human Relations Committee has lost sight of the need to change the law so that it better protects the rights of workers. This bill does improve the protection of some of those rights against abuses by management, but it does nothing to protect them from labor unions. And one kind of abuse is about as common as the other these days. The main focus of this legislation is on the rights of unions - as unions, not as representatives of workers. We doubt that adding additional provisions strengthening the law against union misdeeds would take much of the bitterness out of the fight that is going on over passage of the bill. But that would at least reduce the one-sidedness ofthis "reform" act.