Guest Opinion: Employee Free Choice Act would help middle class

2009-04-02T23:00:00Z Guest Opinion: Employee Free Choice Act would help middle classJIM McGARVEY and JOHN SWEENEY The Billings Gazette
April 02, 2009 11:00 pm  • 

You can't help the working poor by feeding the rich more. That's the verdict on the last 30 years of debt-driven credit card economics. Just look at the numbers. Worker productivity soared over the last 25 years, leading to record profits, while workers' wages stayed flat.

Working people are struggling to stay afloat as health care costs spiral out of control. Foreclosures are at an all-time high. Millions of jobs are gone and millions more are at stake.

Leading economists agree that we're living in the worst economic crisis - and the greatest economic inequality - since the Great Depression. Last year, the average CEO made in one workday what the average worker made in a year.

Stagnant wages and tightening family budgets have severely restricted the average worker's buying power. Small businesses across the country are hurting because workers can't afford to buy their products.

We've got to grow the middle class if we want to get this economy moving again. But, as President Obama has said, we won't be able to rebuild the middle class if working people don't have the freedom to form and join unions.

Every year, tens of thousands of workers are harassed, intimidated and fired for supporting the union. Even when workers do form a union, they won't receive a collective-bargaining contract almost half the time.

A new Gallup poll shows that a solid majority of Americans support legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions and negotiate for better health care, wages and job security. Millions of Americans want to be able to form and join unions, but they shouldn't have to risk their livelihoods in the process.

That's why Congress recently introduced the Employee Free Choice Act - a common-sense piece of legislation that will let workers decide how they want to form a union. Workers would be able to choose between the two current methods - either through an election or by gathering a majority of signed authorization cards. The only difference is that today your boss gets to make that choice for you.

Instead of going through a typically long and costly ordeal, the Employee Free Choice Act will create a level playing field for workers and management to come to the table and negotiate a fair contract.

Workers and managers at hundreds of successful companies like AT&T have benefited from the less-divisive majority sign-up process when workers expressed their desire to unionize. Unions and businesses have worked together to establish employee training programs, reduce turnover and improve product quality. Recent studies from the Economic Policy Institute show that these cooperative relationships help local communities to prosper, which in turn helps to stimulate demand for local businesses.

The Employee Free Choice Act is the key to rebuilding our nation's middle class and making our economy work for all of us.

Jim McGarvey of Helena is executive-secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO and its 11 million members.

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