Making Sense of the Employee Free Choice Act

Help your students understand the Employee Free Choice Act, a major change in labor law that will be considered by Congress.
Grade Level


  • Students will understand the core issues at the heart of the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act
  • Students will judge the arguments for and against the Employee Free Choice Act and make a choice for or against the act
  • Students will analyze the ways their own opinions about information can be changed when they know more about the sources of that information





Congress will make a decision on a law that will have a huge impact on labor unions across America.

The Employee Free Choice Act would change decades-old labor laws governing how unions can be formed in the workplace.

Under current rules, created during the Great Depression, the National Labor Relations Board requires a "card check" before a union can be recognized as a collective bargaining agent for all the workers in a workplace. A card check is essentially a form of petition, in which employees fill out cards requesting the formation of a union.

However, even if more than 50 percent of employees choose a union in a card check, the employer can challenge the card check by requiring a secret ballot vote overseen by federal officials.

The Employee Free Choice Act would strip employers of the power to demand a secret ballot. Supporters of the act, including the AFL-CIO, say the measure would streamline the unionization process and bring new life to labor movements. Opponents, including spokespeople like former Sen. George McGovern, say the act "eliminate the employee’s right to a private vote."

Both sides have produced very similar-sounding advertisements, and both claim to have workers' rights at heart. This lesson will help your students dig through the rhetoric and ask themselves which side truly represents workers and their interests.



Give your students a basic outline of the provisions of the Employee Free Choice Act, as detailed above. Tell students they are going to debate and vote on EFCA, drawing on what they have learned so far about the labor movement, and on opinions written by prominent players in the controversy.

Divide your students into pairs (you may want to pair with a student if there are an odd number of students). Distribute, to each pair of students, one copy of "Employee Free Choice Act: Questions and Answers," one copy of "The Right to Organize" and one copy of the "Assessing the Commentary" handout.

Tell students they are going to do a role-playing exercise. Each student will take one of the commentaries, read it carefully, and then play the role of the author of that commentary. The other student in the pair will play the role of a skeptical interviewer. The "author" student will try to convince the "skeptical interviewer" student, and the "skeptical interviewer" student will assess his/her argument using the "Assessing the Commentary" handout. After one student takes a turn as "author," the students should switch roles, with the other student now playing the role of the author of the other commentary.

Give students ample time to read and debate each side. When they are done, ask your students what they felt were some of the most powerful points to emerge from the commentaries. Write those points on the board.

Give your students a chance to vote on whether they, as a class, support the Employee Free Choice Act.

After the vote is cast, students know that you are invoking your right as a teacher to invalidate their vote. Tell your students there may have been too much peer pressure involved in the first vote, and that you'd like to give them more information.

Explain to students that the main supporter of EFCA is the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization. The most prominent opponent of EFCA is the Employee Freedom Action Committee – the group that sponsored ads featuring George McGovern, former Democratic presidential nominee.

Distribute copies of "Profile: AFL-CIO" and "Profile: Employee Freedom Action Committee" to each pair of students. Tell them to discuss each profile briefly and write, on the back of their Assessing the Commentary worksheet, a paragraph on how each profile changed their feeling about the EFCA debate.

Now comes the second vote on EFCA. Ask students to write their "YES to EFCA" or "NO to EFCA" on the bottom of their "Assessing the Commentary" sheets, fold the sheets, and quietly turn them in. Remind them that this is a "secret" ballot and no on is obligated to tell another student how they voted.

As homework, tell students to write a short, one page essay on how the re-vote – and the new information on both groups - affected their opinions on EFCA.

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