American Labor Activists rally to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act, 2003


To display solidarity and strength of the United States Labor Movement
Build support for the Employee Free Choice Act

Time period notes

While logistical work was started in the summer of 2003, that work is hard to truly differentiate from the AFL-CIO's larger efforts to advance the labor movement. The start on 03 December was chosen as it is the day that campaigners had their first action that was intended to help build momentum for Human Rights Day.

Time period

02 December, 2003 to 10 December, 2003


United States

Location Description

Actions happened across America, mainly in metropolitan areas
Jump to case narrative




Amnesty International
Local Unions
Local Universities

Involvement of social elites

Senator Ted Kennedy


Republican Party
Pro Business Lobby
Moderate Democratic Represenatives

Nonviolent responses of opponent

News and Op-Eds against Employee Free Choice Act
Lobbying against the Employee Free Choice Act

Campaigner violence


Repressive Violence



Economic Justice



Group characterization

Labor union members

Groups in 1st Segment

Ted Kennedy
Local Students
Local Unions

Groups in 5th Segment

Amnesty International

Segment Length

1.5 Days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

4 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

8 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The campaign succeeded in legitimizing the Employee Free Choice Act. However, the AFL-CIO never achieved their goal of actually having the Act assigned into law.

Database Narrative

The AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, moved to counteract the shrinking union strength and the ever growing corporate power via legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act. Andy Levin and Stewart Acuff, two veteran union organizers, spearheaded the effort. In the summer of 2003, Acuff and Levin agreed on what the act would entail. It would have three key components: the right to card checks, harsher penalties against employers who violated labor laws, and the right for workers to seek arbitration and mediation if they could not negotiate a first contract with their employer. The card checks meant that a union would be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board after authorization cards signed by a majority of workers had been submitted. The card checks would not replace elections, but would offer a parallel system to unionize. Card checks would drastically shorten the amount of time required to unionize, and in the AFL-CIO’s view, make a fairer and more transparent unionization method.

Acuff stated that the first challenge that the Employee Free Choice Act would face would be to “pass the laugh test” and be taken seriously. On 21 November 2003, Senator Ted Kennedy (MA), one of the most influential liberals in the US Congress, and Congressman George Miller (CA) introduced the Employee Free Choice Act to Congress. Republicans and the business lobby immediately attacked the bill. Acuff and Levin recognized the need to legitimize the bill under the barrage of criticism from the right, and the two decided to organize as many pro-labor and pro-Employee Free Labor Act actions as possible across America on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. They intended to swamp media markets with coverage of the American labor movement.

Prior to Human Rights Day, the AFL-CIO coordinated and planned over 100 events with local partner organizers. These partners included prominent universities, unions, and centers of worship. They compiled all the events for the day on their website. Interested people could learn about events by state, and the blurbs for each event provided contact information for the lead organizer of every event.

While the bulk of the planned events happened on 10 December, many local organizations organized smaller events to raise awareness during the week leading up to Human Rights Day.  Local partners in the Washington DC area took additional steps to raise awareness for the event. On 3 December, union members and their allies canvassed at twenty five metro stops during the morning commute. The flyers told commuters of the upcoming rallies and teach-ins on 10 December and the reason for them. In addition, campaigners also put up 14 banners on highway overpasses.

On 10 December 2003, events across America happened consistently throughout the day. Most states and major metropolitan areas had events. While the details of the different events varied, common events involved rallies, marches, candlelight vigils, teach ins, press conferences, and board hearings. The AFL-CIO managed to mobilize over 150,000 Americans at over 100 events across the United States.

The organizers of the events drew strong connections to human rights; they presented unionization as a right that had been violated in the United States. Amnesty International partnered in several of the AFL-CIO’s events, which helped frame the rallies and Employee Free Choice Act as a matter of human rights. Organizers also drew attention to the fact that union won the forty hour work week and the modern weekend. Their efforts to propagate positive news coverage worked, and many (at least a few dozen) news articles on the day mentioned the victories that unions had won for the working class in past decades.

Organizers designed many events to generate community wide support for the grievances of one section of the labor community. For example, in Nashville, Tennessee, community members rallied at Werthan Packaging Co to show support and solidarity with workers who had been trying to unionize for over a decade.

In many cities across the nation, Workers Rights Boards convened hearings local community leaders who fought for labor rights, and During these events on the 10th, community members could share with local labor leaders their experiences and troubles trying to organize their work places. Most of these hearings were followed by a march and or rally.

Most of the local events did not explicitly focus on the Employee Free Choice Act, rather the events focused on worker rights, human rights and the link between the two. Many of the teach-ins focused on highlighting obstacles and abuse workers faced while trying to organize. The handful of actions that directly focused on the Employee Free Choice Act were mass lobbying efforts to get communities’ representatives to support the act. For example, the Vermont AFL-CIO marched to their Senators’ offices to deliver letters asking for the senators to support the Free Choice Act.

News coverage was extensive as local and national news organizations wrote stories on the actions on Human Rights Day. In addition, supporters of the Employee Free Labor Act published a barrage of editorials and op-eds. Mark Weisbrot penned at least three op-eds in support of the act in different newspapers.

While Human Rights Day and the AFL-CIO events received some follow up coverage in the following days, it was mainly in publications that only published weekly, and overall the media quickly lost interest. However, the Human Rights Day actions managed to raise enough attention that over 100 members of the US House of Representatives signed onto the bill as co-sponsors and Acuff stated that “the legislation had passed ‘the laugh test.’”

After 10 December, the AFL-CIO returned to its more traditional methods of lobbying and stopped using nonviolent action to help support the Employee Free Choice Act. Acuff led a continued media blitz and gave countless speeches supporting the act. The federation met with senators and representatives for the next six years pushing for the act. In 2007, the Act had majority support in both the House and Senate. However, the Senate majority did not have 60 supporters, the number required to break the threatened Republican filibuster. By 2009, under President Obama, the Democrats gathered the required numbers to pass the bill; however, due to the combination of the Great Recession and its economic pressures and pro-business lobbyists, a few moderate Democrats withdrew their support. The bill failed to pass in that session of Congress, and it was not reintroduced once the Republicans took control of the house in 2010.


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AFL-CIO. 2003. “Event Calendar” Voices at Work. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

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Greenhouse, Steven. 2009. “Democrats Cut Labor Provision Unions Sought.” The New York Times, July 16.

Hearn, Josephine. 2003. “Unions kick off journey of ‘1000 Miles.’” The Hill, 10 December. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Hester, Randolph. 2003. “Labor will rally in St. Louis to highlight the right to organize.” The Kansas City Star, December 9. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Kriesky, Gill and Eaton, Adrienne. 2003. “US Labour Issues Congress should act to protect worker’s right to unionize.” Charleston Gazette December 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Kingsley, Robert B. 2003. “Human Rights for Workers; Democracy and Living Wages are Endangered by a Legal System that Frustrates the Basic Right to Organize.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10 December, 2003. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Madl, David and Karla Walter. 2009. “The Employee Free Choice Act 101.” Center for American Progress Action. Retrieved March 25, 2019 (

Mendoza, Norma. 2003. “Unions Take Concerns to Shimkus.” Edwardsville Intelligencer, December 15. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Norris, Michelle. 2007. “Labor, Business Make Plays on Free Choice Act.” NPR News. 10 Janaury. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Ramstack, Tom. 2003. “Unions rally aims to reverse declines - Targets Bush administration policies seen as hurting organized labor.” The Washington Times, December 10. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Sweeney, John. 2003. “Worker’s rights inseparable from basic human rights.” Chicago Sun Times, 10 December. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Turl, Adam. 2009. “Who Killed EFCA?” SocialistWorker.Org. Retrieved March 25, 2019 (

U.S. Congress. Senate. Employee Free Choice Act. S.1925. 108th Congress, 2003. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Walker, Peter. 2003. “PR Union hosts rally on right to choose union.” Midland Reporter-Telegram, 11 December. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Weisbrot, Mark. 2003. “Unions Losing Basic Right to Organize.” Watertown Daily News, 12 December. Retrieved 25 March 2019.

Weisbrot, Mark. 2003. “Unions Losing Basic Rights to Organize as Employers Counterattack.” Sun Herald, December 10.

Weisbrot, Mark, and Ridder, Knight. 2003. “The Right to Organize – On International Human Rights Day, US Unions struggle to survive.” Charlotte Observer, 10 December. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

Additional Notes

AFL-CIO. 2003. “Event Calendar” Voices at Work. Retrieved 25 March 2019. <>

This source is incredibly useful and has almost all events sanctioned by the AFL-CIO listed.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Zach Lytle, 28/05/19