The Senate will consider and vote tomorrow on the Employee Free Choice Act (S.1041), a major step in the fight to strengthen workers’ rights, which have been dangerously and deliberately eroded over the past six years.
The bill, one of the major recommendations of the Center for American Progress Task Force on Poverty’s recently released report, “From Poverty to Prosperity: A National Strategy to Cut Poverty in Half,” would be “an important and necessary measure to lift working families out of poverty, expand the middle class, and provide economic opportunity to the American workers who need it most.,” according to CAP President and CEO John Podesta.
The bill would give workers the opportunity to form unions by signing cards or petitions—a “card check” system—impose stronger penalties on employers who violate labor laws, and prevent employers from dragging out contract negotiations. It would restore workers’ right to organize by ending the nightmare of intimidation and endless red tape that many employers have at their disposal.
Nearly 60 million workers indicate they would join unions if permitted to freely do so. And for good reason. Unionized workers earn, on average, 15 percent to 20 percent more than non-unionized workers in comparable jobs. They are also far more likely to receive benefits such as health insurance and pension plans. Yet, as studies show, current practices often do not give them the chance to do so:
- Ninety-two percent of private-sector employers, when faced with employees who want to join together in a union, force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; 80 percent require supervisors to attend training sessions on attacking unions; and 78 percent require that supervisors deliver anti-union messages to workers they oversee.
- Seventy-five percent of private-sector companies hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns, often based on mass psychology and distorting the law.
- Half of all private-sector employers threaten to shut down partially or totally if employees join together in a union.
- In 25 percent of organizing campaigns, private-sector employers illegally fire workers because they want to form a union.
- Even after workers successfully form a union, in one-third of the instances, private-sector employers do not negotiate a contract.
These violations of workers’ rights are no small offense. The National Labor Relations Act (more commonly referred to as the Wagner Act), signed 72 years ago by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a key piece of his New Deal economic recovery platform, guarantees the rights of workers to organize freely into unions, collectively bargain, strike, and take part in other activities.
Employee elections to form a union are held on secret ballot, but often occur long after employees file for the vote. This delay gives employers ample time to undermine the vote through intimidation and pressure tactics aimed at employees. And even after a successful vote, employers can object and raise the issue with the National Labor Relations Board, which has been significantly weakened and biased towards employers during the Bush administration.
The Center for American Progress has long championed workers’ rights. Unions play an important role in reducing income inequality by raising wages for low- and middle-income workers. In doing so, unions can lift many working families—particularly families of color and families headed by women—above the official poverty line. Unfortunately, right now one in four American workers are in jobs for which the wages from full-time work will not keep a family of four out of poverty.
The Employee Free Choice Act is an important and necessary measure to lift working families out of poverty, expand the middle class, and provide economic opportunity to the American workers who need it most.
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