Every year nearly 6,000 American workers are killed on the job and many more are bilked out of an estimated $19 billion in wages by their employers. Unfortunately, workers do not have the protections they need and deserve because President Bush’s Department of Labor has failed to effectively police low-road employers, and unions—which give workers a voice on the job and help to ensure laws are followed—have been under attack and therefore shrinking in size.
An important step toward improving workplace safety and wage standards is to give workers a stronger voice through increased unionization. Congress can reduce the barriers to joining a union by passing the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill would allow an employee to choose to join a union by signing a membership card—a system that works well at the small number of workplaces that choose to permit it—and also promotes good-faith bargaining so that employees can negotiate a first contract. The act does not deny workers their right to vote in a union election, as some conservatives maintain, but rather allows workers to choose between signing a membership card and having an election.
The House of Representatives has already passed this important legislation, and although a majority of senators support it, opposition from a few conservatives has prevented the bill’s passage. The next president must prioritize the protection of workers’ rights both through better enforcement of existing wage theft and worker safety law, and through inducing the Senate to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
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