Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Why We Should Support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

I am returning to posting on religious social criticism and other matters, but I want to ask my U.S. readers to call and email their Representatives and Senators and urge them to support the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) which is scheduled for a vote early in the 111th Congress.  Opponents call this “card check” and it will be a major issue.

Here’s the problem:  Since the 1930s, U.S. law protects the rights of workers to organize and form unions in order to collectively bargain with management and have a say in better pay & benefits, safer working conditions, etc.  But when labor organizers manage to collect enough signatures to call for a vote on forming a union, employers often threaten, fire, discipline and otherwise harass employees into voting it down–something that is especially easy to do during times of high unemployment like now.  There is an entire lucrative consulting business which teaches employers how to union-bust.  Operatives from these consulting firms (Wal-Mart employs them all the time) help your company sit down with employees and “gently persuade” them into voting “no,” including by firing anyone who is openly pro-union.  All of this is VERY illegal, but companies do it anyway because (1) the fines are so low that it is cheaper to pay them than to have to treat employees well by facing a union; (2) the U.S. Labor department has seen its budget shrink under GOP presidents and does not have the employees or resources to catch most violators; (3) if fired employees sue and win big settlements, judges appointed by GOP presidents have been very business-friendly and union-hating, so they often decrease the penalties a jury sets as “overly punitive.” Union-busters count on this.

So, EFCA allows employees to get together (with or without union organizers) and decide they want a union; if a majority sign cards saying they want to form a union, it’s a done deal. The opportunity for employers to intimidate them out of their earlier commitment is gone.  The anti-union propaganda (repeated by many “news” organizations) is that “card check” eliminates the right to secret ballot elections and allows union organizers to intimidate employees, instead. (Project much?) This is false. EFCA allows employees to hold an election for the union or to skip that step–their choice.  And employers have FAR more opportunities for intimidation (and power to intimidate–like firing you!) than do organizers or fellow employees. But, if needed for some GOP votes, I would support an amendment to EFCA saying that a supermajority was needed to skip the election stage, say 60% of employees signing the cards with 50% plus 1 still being the threshold for an election at all.

If EFCA passes, we will see far more unions, especially in the South and Southwest where union-busting is strongest.  Why should this matter? Because strong unions are key to a strong middle class.  Unions brought about the weekend (now very eroded) and the 40 hour week (also eroded). They helped eliminate child labor and brought about safer working conditions for everyone. When unions were strongest (1950s and 1960s), we had fewer hyper-rich in this country, but a far larger middle class–when one income could support a family of four, with health benefits and a pension fund. Families with breadwinners that had only a high school education were able to buy homes and save to send their kids to college.

Not all Republicans have always been anti-organized labor.  Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller had good labor records and Nixon’s was not terrible.  Sen. Arlen Spector (R-PA) has a good record on labor and may be a key vote for us to keep EFCA from being filibustered in the U.S. Senate.  But, since the Goldwater/Reagan crew began to dominate the Republican Party, unions have been considered “the enemy” by the GOP as a whole and union-busting is a major thrust of GOP politics. (One of Reagan’s very first acts as U.S. president was to break the air-traffic controllers’ union–thereby making all of us who fly in the U.S. much less safe.)

Strong unions are also important for other dimensions of social justice:  Unions like the United Auto Workers (UAW) were very strong in the Civil Rights Movement (as was the mostly Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters).  The experience of working and struggling together has been a major force in breaking down racial prejudice among those with less education (where racism is strongest, at least on the level of personal attitudes).  Likewise, many labor unions have been strong supporters of peace movements–with members often having family members in the military who are likely to be put in harm’s way for no good reason.  Organized labor has not been as strong, to date, in working for equality of the sexes or against homophobia–but there are signs this is changing.

So, strong unions are important for their primary purpose of economic justice, but also have important “side effects.”

Therefore, I urge you to support stronger unions in this country by contacting your Congressional Representatives and Senators and urging them to pass EFCA. You can also write letters to your local newspapers and make call-ins to radio shows in support of EFCA, too.

January 10, 2009 - Posted by | economic justice

1 Comment

  1. […] of Louisiana. He has already said that he will vote against Labor’s big priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, even though he was a co-sponsor of a very similar bill in 2007 and 2008 and even though he must […]

    Pingback by Brief Thoughts on Sen. Arlen Specter’s “Conversion” « Levellers | April 29, 2009

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