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Propagandists mask Free Choice Act facts

February 8, 2009

By Beth Thew
The Spokesman-Review

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce calls it “Armageddon.”

Home Depot’s CEO called it “the demise of a civilization,” and said his fellow corporate executives who didn’t contribute big bucks to defeat it “should be shot, should be thrown out of their (expletive) jobs.”

What has Corporate America so apoplectic with fear and anger? A fatal epidemic? A terrorist nuclear threat? A new Michael Moore movie?

It’s legislation before Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act. It would increase fines and penalties against employers that refuse to negotiate union contracts or that illegally threaten or fire workers who support forming unions.

But the provision that strikes fear in the heart of Corporate America is allowing the workers to decide for themselves whether they want to form a union through the traditional government-supervised ballot election or by signing authorization cards.

It doesn’t eliminate “secret ballot elections,” as you’ve been told. It lets the workers decide if they want one, instead of letting the boss decide, as he now does.

Here is the sad truth. If you support forming a union in America, your employer can – and often will – harass, demote or fire you. It doesn’t matter that it’s illegal. Federal labor laws are so weak, and so weakly enforced, that it could take years of litigation just to prove you were unlawfully fired. Even then, the fines are minuscule.

We, as Americans, should be ashamed. This country, which prides itself for protecting the freedom of association, is listed by Human Rights Watch alongside Third-World dictatorships as a violator of basic human rights on this issue.

Today, the illegal suppression of unions is a simple cost of doing business. It’s seen as cheaper than granting your employees a union contract with higher wages, better benefits and a voice on the job.

Workers who belong to unions earn 30 percent more than non-union workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are 59 percent more likely to have employer- provided health coverage and 72 percent more likely to have pensions.

Corporations know this. They don’t want their employees to unionize. And right now, they have the system rigged.

That’s why they so aggressively oppose attempts to reform labor laws to make it easier to form unions. And that’s why, as you read this, they are spending millions to convince you the EFCA will take away your sacred right to “secret ballot” election and lead to intimidation by union thugs like me.

They are lying to you. The EFCA doesn’t eliminate the secret ballot, it lets workers choose if they want one.

As for union thugs on your doorstep, union-authorization cards have always been a part of the election process established by the National Labor Relations Act. In the 70 years that labor organizers have been seeking card signatures, there have been fewer than 50 cases of union misconduct or coercion documented by the National Labor Relations Board. That’s less than one case per year.

Compare that to 29,559 cases in 2007 alone of workers receiving back pay in cases where employers were charged with violating workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

We have example after example of companies right here in Eastern Washington where workers have reached out to union organizations asking for representation. The results have been intimidation and threats by the employers; fear mongering from the employers to the point of retreat from employees. This doesn’t sound like the America or the community that I know and love.

Notoriously anti-union companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot want you to believe you need their protection from the Employee Free Choice Act and from jack-booted union thugs that will come crashing through your front window to take your money.

When are we going to stand up for our rights, and stop listening to this disingenuous, self-serving propaganda from multinational corporations?

Note: Beth Thew is secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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