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No Sweat. The People Are on Our Side for Employee Free Choice

Photo Credit: Bill Burke/Page One
Man, was it hot in D.C. at the Employee Free Choice rally.

Wow, was it hot here Tuesday. But despite a humid and horrid Washington, D.C., summer day, more than 4,500 of us—union members and our allies—spent hours on Capitol Hill June 19, rallying for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

I had hoped to report to you here this week that the Senate had passed the bill, but with the debate on the energy legislation and the re-introduction of the immigration bill, the vote hasn’t happened yet—but the Senate is debating the bill.

So that means there’s still time to take action and e-mail your senators to support Employee Free Choice. Trapper John over at Kos has a great post on the hold-out Dems. And special thanks to everyone who took action last week after my post on the Employee Free Choice Act and to Christy for bringing attention to the issue again here. Your support is phenomenal, proving again what a great family FDL is.

The Hill yesterday published a revealing article on where a couple of the so-called GOP “centrists” stand on the bill. Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, who says he opposes the bill, is quoted as follows:

[The bill is] a payback to labor for their support. It’s not something supported by the American people.

Looks like Smith has started to imbibe too deeply in the failed GOP talking points because more than two-thirds of the public—69 percent—support the Employee Free Choice Act. And some 60 million U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could. They can’t very easily now because of outdated labor laws—which is why we are working so hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

As Sen. Edward Kennedy said in opening the debate Tuesday, strong unions result in a strong middle class. Conversely:

When you diminish unions, you diminish the power of working men and women.

Union workers earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers—that’s $833 in median weekly earnings for full-time wage and salary work in 2006, compared with $642 for their nonunion workers. And 80 percent of union workers are covered by pension plans versus 47 percent of nonunion workers.

But Big Money groups like the anti-worker and Orwellian-named Coalition for a Democratic Workplace and CUF, the Center for Union Facts (not), are waging a massive effort to defeat the bill—making these past few days critical for supporters of the bill to make our voices heard. CUF alone is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on full-page ads in The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere, as well as on ads on CNN and Fox (natch) trashing the bill.

These groups’ big lie is that the Employee Free Choice Act will take away the secret ballot election process. It would not. Instead, it would ensure workers have another option in addition to the ballot process—majority sign-up (card-check). The employee advocacy group American Rights at Work does a great job here in showing how a ballot election at the workplace is far from democratic—and so it can’t be compared with the type of elections we had in this country before Bush.

The tactics of these groups are as ugly and stupid as their failed ideology. CUF runs ads with large photos of dictators like Idi Amin alongside a photo of a union president in a tortured effort to “prove” union leaders, like dictators, oppose elections.

Many aspiring communications professionals in junior high could do a lot better—just don’t tell CUF. The dumber they look, the better.

Meanwhile, American Rights at Work also offers a close look at the key groups behind this smear campaigns.

Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW): The deceptively titled Astroturf group masquerades as a workers’ rights group, mimicking the rhetoric and even logo of legitimate organizations. CDW claims “rank-and-file workers from across the country” are opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act. Yet no workers are named as members on CDW’s website, but hundreds of national, deep-pocketed groups and their affiliates are—including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The chamber co-chairs the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. In 2006, the chamber spent a record $72 million on lobbying. Chamber Vice President for Labor Policy Randel Johnson told The New York Times: “We’ve targeted [The Employee Free Choice Act] as our No. 1 or No. 2 priority to defeat.” Operating from the same playbook and talking points, both CDW and the chamber have launched extensive media campaigns in target states to shame and reprimand House members who voted to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and intimidate senators out of following suit. In a CongressDaily article about the expensive ad buy, a chamber spokesperson is quoted as saying: “We’re making people feel pain.”

Center for Union Facts (CUF): CUF was founded last year by Richard Berman, whose past P.R. campaigns have included convincing pregnant women to eat mercury-laden tuna on behalf of the seafood industry. As the Senate launched hearings on the Employee Free Choice Act in March, CUF released misleading figures based on National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) data that minimized the number of illegal firings during union election campaigns. Both Republican and Democratic Senate staff requested clarification on the group’s claims from the NLRB. Staff at the NLRB swiftly responded to report Berman’s data cannot be substantiated.

So, this is the type of sheep-weasel groups we’re up against. Meanwhile, we’re using people-power to counter their assaults. And we have the people on our side.

* Fifteen Democratic governors have signed a letter in support of the Employee Free Choice Act and more are signing on every day.

* Nearly 1,300 state and local lawmakers have publicly backed nearly 50 resolutions passed by county and city legislative bodies in every state supporting the Employee Free Choice Act. Last week, the city of Philadelphia joined Boston, Detroit, Miami and other cities and counties in passing a resolution in support of the bill.

*  Some 115 religious leaders have signed a letter urging the Senate to pass Employee Free Choice. The letter points out that: “America’s faith traditions are nearly unanimous in support of the right of workers to organize, and by using sacred text and tradition, our faith communities have developed social statements supporting the freedom of workers, too vulnerable to systemic injustices in the workplace, to organize and collectively bargain.” 

* Dozens of academics have written op-eds, letters to the editor and reports on the nation’s need for the Employee Free Choice Act. Rutgers University and Wheeling Jesuit University professors Adrienne Eaton and Jill Kriesky co-authored a study examining the opposition to the majority sign-up process and found that management coercion, not union coercion, is the problem when workers seek to form unions and that labor board elections invite far more exposure to coercion than card-check campaigns (check out the report here).

(The full list of Employee Free Choice Act supporters is here.)

The people spoke in the House, when Employee Free Choice passed by 241–185 in March. There is not nearly as large a percentage representing the people’s interests in the Senate. But despite the Big Money, Big Sleaze attacks, working people will make their voices heard in Senate—and in the 2008 elections when we will elect to office more lawmakers who represent the people.

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