Union, Democrat Bill Would Give Workers 'Free Choice'

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The top officials of the Democratic Leadership Council met with the leaders of several national labor organizations in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to call on Congress to pass legislation that would give workers the "free choice" to join or form a union.

DLC Chair Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said during the news conference that the groups had come together to "speak with one voice" regarding enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which has 43 co-sponsors in the Senate (S. 842) and 216 in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1696).

"We believe that worker protection is a concern to all Americans," Vilsack said, adding that working families have become "worried families," because "there is a great deal of anxiety in America today" regarding such issues as health care, wage "stagnation" and retirement security.

"Now's the time for all Democrats to stand together," said Al From, founder and CEO of the DLC, which "is committed to growing the economy and ensuring that everyone who contributes to that growth is able to share in its benefits."

"One way to do that is to make certain that workers who want to unionize have the right to do so in a fair and swift manner," From said. "That is why we support the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act." According to From, the proposal would:
    Allow employees to freely choose whether to form unions by signing cards authorizing union representation;
    Provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes; and
    Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.
To show the solidarity of organized labor behind the EFCA, the DLC officials were joined at the news conference by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Anna Burger, chair of the Change to Win coalition, which split from the AFL-CIO this past year.

Sweeney called the joint effort a "historic agreement" reflecting "a growing consensus that stronger unions are not only good for unionized workers, but for working families and the economy as a whole."

"Our current laws are a nightmare that not only allow but encourage lengthy and confrontational campaigns aimed at snuffing out workers' choice," Sweeney claimed. "Fewer than 70,000 workers were able to form unions last year under current law, even though more than half of all workers say they would join a union today if they could."

As a result, the EFCA "is the most significant federal legislative proposal in nearly 30 years to protect our most basic and important workplace rights," Sweeney added.

Burger then declared that "workers are in crisis in this country. One of our great challenges is to turn the low-paying, no-benefit jobs of today into the middle-class jobs of tomorrow."

"But the deck is stacked against the middle class, because it's stacked against unions," Burger added. "We need the Employee Free Choice Act so that workers can exercise their fundamental right to join a union by signing a membership card the same way they join a church, join a political party or register to vote."

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said that the EFCA "is not about whether you're for unions or against unions. It's about expanding our nation's middle class. It's about treating with respect and dignity people who work hard every day."

"These days, no matter what industry you're in, one of the most dangerous things you can do at work is try to form a union," McEntee said. "An estimated 10,000 people a year get fired because all they want is a voice at work."

The head of the AFSCME added that workers can't look to the National Labor Relations Board for help.

"In all honesty, I think we should start calling it the 'National League of Republican Businessmen,'" McEntee charged, "because its members are just as hostile to American workers as the most low-down, dirty, union-busting law firm."

"The Employee Free Choice Act will help restore balance and fairness in the workplace," McEntee claimed, "and the DLC's support will undoubtedly help us pass this landmark piece of legislation."

Justin Hakes, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee, told Cybercast News Service, however, that he found Wednesday's event "irony at work" since he believes the measure would "throw open the door to rampant employee abuse" by unions themselves.

Hakes noted that the speakers at the news conference "left out one huge detail" regarding the proposed legislation.

"This bill would outright outlaw the less abusive, more traditional process by which unions have been formed for the most part since 1935, and that's by secret ballot election," Hakes said. Instead, "it would establish card check as the only legal method by which a union can be formed in this country."

"Under card check, the only free choice you're given is 'union yes' or 'union yes,'" Hakes said. "Workers are often lied to about what the cards truly are. A lot of times, employees are told they're insurance or tax forms or even a petition for a union election.

"Those who have resisted signing such cards have endured everything from being followed around the workplace during lunch breaks to in some instances being visited at home by union organizers," Hakes added.

Hakes also took issue with Burger's comment that signing a card to join a union is the same as signing a card to join a church.

"The problem with that statement is that no private entity enjoys the special legal privileges that unions do across the board," Hakes said. For example, "they're exempt from anti-monopoly laws, and they can compel workers in 28 states to pay union dues or be fired."

In the end, Hakes sees the effort in the context of the midterm election on Nov. 7.

"It's all about greasing the rails for more coercive union organizing," Hakes argued, "by installing a majority in Congress that will ram this legislation through."

See Earlier Stories:
Survey: American Dream Out of Reach of Many Workers (Sept. 1, 2006)
Unions' Approval at Lowest Point Since 1981, Poll Finds (Sept. 1, 2006)

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