A Time To Demand a Stand With Workers

Isaiah J. Poole

One year ago today, a Senate Republican filibuster killed the Employee Free Choice Act, and with it died one of the most important things Congress could have done to repair the economic damage done to working-class families caused by decades of conservative economic policies.

The right-wing effort to keep that legislation from resurfacing continues in over-the-top fashion. One of the most recent jeremiads against the bill—brought to the fore by the discredited Center for Union Facts, the source of a misleading ad campaign against unions—compares union organizing efforts at a Minneapolis hotel, where the card-check provisions of EFCA were in place as a result of a local law, to the effort by strongman Robert Mugabe to keep power in Zimbabwe, calling the efforts “coercive.”

The idea that union volunteers visiting workers’ homes and encouraging them to sign union organizing cars is remotely comparable to the brutality of the Mugabe regime points to the hysterical desperation of the right over this issue — and the fact that they have no answer to what workers actually say they want.

What they want, as our latest Making Sense 2008 alert shows, is clear from polls in which more than half of all U.S. workers—nearly 60 million—say they would join a union right now if they could. Their best opportunity to get ahead is by uniting with co-workers to bargain with employers for better wages and benefits. Working people want that opportunity.

Plus, the allegations of abuses of union organizers pale in comparison to the abuses of anti-union employers taking advantage of what is now a broken system. Corporations routinely intimidate, harass, coerce and illegally fire people who try to organize unions. Workers are fired in a quarter of private sector union organizing campaigns; 78 percent of private employers require supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to their employees; and even after workers successfully form a union, they can’t get a contract one-third of the time. The National Labor Relations Board, once a reliable arbiter of employer-employee disputes, is now so politicized under a Bush administration that is ideologically opposed to unions that it has issued a torrent of precedent-busting anti-union rulings.

The federal government is blocking the freedom of working people to make their own decisions about joining a union. The current “election” system for union recognition is decidedly undemocratic. One side—the corporation—has all the power, controls the information workers receive, and routinely poisons the process by intimidating, harassing, coercing, and even firing people who try to organize unions.

Enacting the Employee Free Choice Act would do three simple, fair things for workers: It would make it possible for a majority of employees to sign union authorization cards, validated by the National Labor Relations Board, to have that union recognized by their employer; it would strengthen penalties for companies that coerce or intimidate employees in an effort to prevent them form forming a union; and it would bring in a neutral third party to settle a contract when a company and a newly-certified union cannot come to an agreement after three months.

Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama supports this legislation, Sen. John McCain does not. This is a good time to ask people running for office whether they stand with workers and their right to form unions or with the corporations and conservative enablers who would block this right.

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