By Barbara J. Easterling
President, Alliance for Retired Americans
Our nation’s economic crisis is affecting nearly everyone. Unless you are getting one of those big Wall Street bonuses, you are probably struggling to pay your bills, keep your home, or afford to see a doctor or fill a prescription. There is no longer any doubt that the fundamentals of our economy are broken.
One way out of this mess – and a way to help both current and future retirees – is for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Employee Free Choice Act recognizes that our middle class is in trouble because more and more, big corporations hold all the cards. As they lavish their CEOs with bonuses and golden parachutes, they slash jobs and cut all the wrong corners on customer service and safety. They break their promises to workers and retirees, leaving millions without health care and retirement plans.
But standing up for yourself by forming a union hasn’t been easy. One in five workers trying to form a union is fired. Decades of “hear no evil, see no evil” enforcement of labor laws has given management the green light to harass and intimidate anyone who tries to exercise their rights on the job. Too often federal officials fail to protect law-abiding employees, and instead act like the lookout man at a bank robbery.
Ever since I joined a union – on my very first day as a telephone operator in Akron, Ohio – I have seen firsthand how collective bargaining is the best hope workers have for good jobs and good wages. Now, as president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, I see that as middle class jobs disappear, so does the prospect of a safe and secure retirement. Did you know that workers in a union are nearly three times more likely to have pensions and five times more likely to have health insurance benefits? A union contract helps you long past when your working days are done.
Most of my generation is no longer in the workforce. But we worry about our younger friends and family who struggle to either find a job or hang onto the one they have. If things stay as they are, will they ever be able to retire?
In times this tough, we must all stand together. All of us must educate our neighbors – and particularly our lawmakers – about how our right to collectively bargain is broken. Only through restoring fairness to our labor laws can we restore our nation’s middle class to the greatness that it once was.
Barbara J. Easterling was elected president of the Alliance for Retired Americans in February of this year. She was previously the secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. For more information, visit www.retiredamericans.org