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The Big Lie about the Employee Free Choice Act

America’s top CEOs — the clueless millionaires whose greed, ignorance and arrogance drove our economy off a cliff — have declared their top legislative priority for 2009. It isn’t the president’s budget. It’s not promoting jobs or health care for their workers. And it’s certainly not limits on CEO pay.

Instead, they’ve launched an all out campaign to scuttle bi-partisan legislation that would restore workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life. The legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, fixes a broken system and would restore the promise of the American Dream for working Americans. It must be a key component of our efforts to rebuild the middle class, promote economic growth and create an economy that works for all Americans.

America’s CEOs have made the defeat of this bill their biggest goal in 2009. To spearhead their campaign, they’ve hired Rick Berman, a shadowy P.R. man who has spent his career attacking nonprofits, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, through phony front groups and misleading advertisements. Berman made a name for himself by winning huge fees working for clients including the tobacco and alcohol industries, mounting campaigns to defeat or weaken drunk driving laws, quieting concerns about cigarettes, and blocking increases in the minimum wage. 

Berman specializes in Big Lie campaigns. That’s why the CEOs have hired him. The Chamber of Commerce, The National Association of Manufacturers and other front organizations for the CEOs have decided that they can’t oppose the Employee Free Choice Act on the merits, so they’ll create a Big Lie to raise concerns about the bill. The lie they’re promoting is that the bill would eliminate secret ballots for workers forming a union.

The claim is simply not true. The bill gives workers, not their employer, the choice in how they choose to form unions: either after a majority of workers sign a card in support of the union or through a secret ballot election. Workers could choose elections, but the opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act don’t care about the truth. They’ve already begun spending $200 million to spread the lie that the bill eliminates secret ballots, hoping that enough people will believe it to kill the bill. That’s why we need to call them on their lie.

The real reason CEOs oppose the bill is because they know that giving workers a better chance at forming a union will undercut corporations’ ability to keep the rewards only to themselves. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott – who made about $23 million in 2007 – is one of the few CEOs to tell the truth about his motives. He admits that the secret ballot canard isn’t the real reason he’s fighting to kill the bill. "We like driving the car,” he said, “and we’re not going to give the steering wheel to anybody but us.”

Playing fast and loose with the truth is not going to defeat this important legislation in Congress. In the last Congress, the Employee Free Choice Act passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin, and in the Senate, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has helped to build a solid majority of Democrats to support the bill. Thanks to Senator Reid, we now have a senate majority that supports giving workers a ticket to the middle class. But Republican senators have threatened a filibuster. Too many Republicans appear to be frightened that if they stand up to the Big Lie about secret ballots, they will upset the leaders of the their party. They know from experience that those leaders – anti-worker talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity – will make it difficult for them to stand with America’s workers.

That’s why it’s important to keep the facts in front of the GOP senators. They need to be reminded that union members earn 30 percent more than workers who don’t have one. Union members are 63 percent more likely to have health care through their employers. That’s why workers want to join unions. CEOs don’t want to pay more so that workers can live better.

Americans want an economy that works for everyone, not just CEOs and right wing radio and TV talk show hosts. The Employee Free Choice Act will help rebuild the middle class and jumpstart our economy, by giving every worker a chance to bargain for decent wages, benefits and safe working conditions. A union job is not only a ticket for workers into the middle class, it’s the best way to jumpstart our economy.

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Gerald McEntee

Gerald McEntee

Gerald W. McEntee is the International President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the most aggressive and politically active organizing unions in the AFL-CIO. Since 2006, 145,000 women and men have changed their lives by forming a union with AFSCME. McEntee was first elected AFSCME President in 1981 and was re-elected in July 2008 to another four-year term.

As a Vice President of the AFL-CIO and chair of the Political Education Committee, McEntee is a key leader of the labor movement and its political efforts. Under McEntee’s leadership, the federation created its highly successful and much imitated voter education and mobilization program, which increased the number of union household voters to a record 26 percent of the electorate in 2006.

McEntee has long been a leader in the fight to reform the nation’s health care system. He chairs the AFL-CIO’s Health Care Committee and is a co-chair of Health Care for America NOW!, a national grassroots coalition that has launched a $40 million campaign to guarantee quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

McEntee is a co-founder and chairman of the board of the Economic Policy Institute, the preeminent voice for working Americans on the economy. He led the successful fight to stop President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security, was an outspoken proponent for increasing the federal minimum wage, and is one of the nation’s leading advocates for America’s vital public services.

For his efforts to improve the lives of working families, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights presented McEntee with its prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Award in 2004.

Before assuming the presidency of AFSCME, McEntee began his distinguished career as a labor leader in Pennsylvania in 1958. He led the drive to unionize more than 75,000 Pennsylvania public service employees, which at that time was the largest union mobilization in history. He was elected Executive Director at the founding convention of AFSCME Council 13 in Pennsylvania in 1973 and an International Vice President of AFSCME in 1974.

McEntee holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. A native of Philadelphia, McEntee and his wife Barbara live in Washington, DC.