As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"The most important anti-poverty movement is the labor movement."

John Edwards said this today at the AFSCME candidates' forum in Nevada, and it is so very true. Saying that we need a strong labor movement in this country is no different from saying we need a strong middle class. Lou Dobbs hasn't done a thing for working people other than decide he was their self-appointed leader. On the other hand, unions have brought you the weekend, the 40-hour work week, a ban on child labor, health care, pensions, and so much more.

Some labor leaders haven't grown with the times, or understood that their focus has to be on resuscitating their dwindling membership numbers, above everything else. The House took a giant step in that direction by passing the Employee Free Choice Act through committee. The bill has 233 sponsors in the House and is sure to pass. The Senate will be more difficult, and the President has threatened a veto. That doesn't mean it's not worth the fight, because it's too important to let go.

Majority sign-up has been an option for workers and employers for 70 years under the nation’s labor laws, with no evidence of problems for workers or employers. Major employers such as Cingular and Kaiser Health Systems allow workers to form unions through majority sign-up, with less workplace conflict and disruption than the contentious NLRB process.

As several workers describe on the AFL-CIO’s Employee Free Choice Act website, the current election process allows employers to coerce, intimidate and harass employees. When workers try to form unions, 25 percent of employers fire at least one employee for union activity, 75 percent hire consultants to make it harder for workers to form their union and more than 90 percent require workers to attend mandatory anti-union meetings.

It's like a free election, only you have to go to meetings for one party, and their hired goons threaten to fire you if you don't vote their way!

This embarrassing piece from the LA Times continues that paper's anti-worker tradition (though at least they balanced it with a pro-EFCA article on the same page). Kevin Drum thrashes just a piece of it, the dishonest idea that "some janitors make $20/hour!" so unions aren't useful. In the Republican worldview the labor market sets prices, but that's only in a perfect world. In our increasingly unregulated world, it's a race to the bottom. And only through collective bargaining can workers receive a modicum of dignity and respect.

Some facts on union activity in America:

Employers that illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns: 25%

Chance that an active union supporter will be illegally fired for union activity during an organizing campaign: 1 in 5

Employers that hire consultants or union-busters to help them fight union organizing drives: 75%

Employers that force employees to attend one-on-one meetings with their own supervisors against the union: 78%

Employers that force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union: 92%

Employers that threaten to call U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during organizing drives that include undocumented employees: 52%

Companies that threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election: 51%

Companies that actually close their plants after a successful union election: 1%

Workers in 2005 who received back pay because of illegal employer discrimination for activities legally protected under the National Labor Relations Act: 31,358

I will be looking at Presidential candidates that support unions. I will be looking at the House debate to see who supports the Employee Free Choice Act. You should too.

P.S. A little troubling that Obama skipped the AFSCME debate, but AFSCME is an old-school union (and Edwards probably has their endorsement locked up), and he's more of a new-union guy:

"Barack Obama has stood by us at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He's walked our picket lines and supported legislation to preserve our jobs and win the wages and benefits we deserve."

I don't have any problem with Obama's commitment to unions.

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