Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Watch out for Big Business Watching Out for You

After co-sponsoring the original labor bill in 2005, and wholeheartedly endorsing the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 (the only Republican senator to do so), Arlen Specter has now reneged and will vote against it for what he wants us to believe are the purest of reasons:

"On the merits [of voting against the bill], the issue which has emerged at the top of the list for me is the elimination of the secret ballot which is the cornerstone of how contests are decided in a democratic society. The bill’s requirement for compulsory arbitration if an agreement is not reached within 120 days may subject the employer to a deal he or she cannot live with. Such arbitration runs contrary to the basic tenet of the Wagner Act for collective bargaining which makes the employer liable only for a deal he or she agrees to. The arbitration provision could be substantially improved by the last best offer procedure which would limit the arbitrator’s discretion and prompt the parties to move to more reasonable positions. "

This is phony. The secret ballot is the second step to voting in a union. The first step is getting 50% of the workforce to agree to holding an election. In most, if not all, instances that's done by signing cards indicating you either want or don't want to have a vote on union representation.

Specter says, "The problems of the recession make this a particularly bad time to enact Employees Free Choice legislation. Employers understandably complain that adding a burden would result in further job losses."

What burden? According to Specter and all the others who oppose the EFCA, it's not necessary anyway. Any employee group who wants a union is free to hold secret ballot elections now. That's true, isn't it?

No, it's not. Of course it's not. Employers can and do thwart any inclination to bring in unions. Specter talks about "intimidation" by those mythical union thugs who, if they knew your name, would come pounding on your door at all hours to get you to sign, but barely mentions the very real pressures employers put on their employees if even a hint of the word "union" wafts through their doors.

So a recession isn't a good time to be talking about forming unions. How about when times were good and Big Business was raking in the dough? When CEOs and COOS and stockholders were sitting on their satin cushions singing the praises of Free Market capitalism? When American jobs were being outsourced to third world countries, paying the lowest possible wages so that profits could go toward living the lavish life and not toward anything as mundane as sharing? Could they talk about forming unions then?

Let's get some real numbers in here. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in 2008 was a mere 12.4% of the workforce. Within that percentage, the union membership rate for public sector workers (36.8 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.6 percent).

So who is cheering the loudest now that Specter has caved? The Chamber of Commerce is positively giddy over it. So is the National Association of Manufacturers. And this is where it gets personal for me.

John Engler, former Republican governor of Michigan, is now the president of the National Association of Manufacturers. (They must feel like the Maytag repairman here in America)

This is what Engler said about Specter's decision: "I am very pleased that Senator Arlen Specter has decided to vote against cloture on the EFCA. EFCA is a flawed piece of legislation that will destroy jobs and prolong the current economic recession. Manufacturers stand behind Senator Specter's decision to vote against EFCA and appreciate this decision to put working men and women, the economy and the nation first."

Now, before you get all dewy-eyed about this, let me just warn you. I know John Engler and he's no FDR. He's no Warren Buffett, either. Trust me.

When John Engler was governor of Michigan, my Michigan, darkness fell across the villages in LiberalLand. We never had a chance. Reaganism, Big Business boosterism, and the nonsense called "Trickle Down" were still very much in vogue.

The governor's mission, at one point, (after he had already done away with poverty programs) was to kill any state funding for the Arts. The Arts are always the wretched stepchildren whenever belts need tightening (after programs for the poor, of course), and we should have seen it coming.

In the early 1990s I applied for and received a state grant to work on a lengthy writing project. I was thrilled beyond belief when my application was accepted, but foolish, foolish me. . .I completely forgot who we were dealing with. Most of the grantees--the smart ones--took their money and ran. Some of them chose to leave their grant money in the state's coffers until the next year, but I was one of those who chose to take half of the grant in one year and leave the other half for the next.

Even before the next year rolled around, Engler was already making noises about Arts excesses, and in spite of petitions and marches to the Capitol steps and pleas to our legislative and congressional leaders, any grant monies we were supposed to receive were taken away. Gone. For good.

We had contracts. We had it in writing. It was promised to us. And the contracts were not honored.

Now, that might not seem like such a sad story, given what is happening in Michigan today, but I offer it here as an example of how easily The Powers can ignore honorable contracts whenever they think they have the right.

We should know by now that without watchdogs, without binding equity, without the force of numbers, the masses in this country will never come out ahead. If the past eight to 12 years haven't shown us what happens when the Chamber of Commerce and all its attendant abettors run the show, I don't know what it's going to take to make it any clearer.

They'll get away with this phony attack against the unions and the EFCA if we let them. Big Business in America doesn't deserve even a moment of hesitation, of let-up now. Write your congresspeople, write our president, blog this issue to death. Do whatever it takes to send the message that American workers made this country and American workers deserve to share in the riches. It's so fundamental, it shouldn't even be an issue. So again I ask: How the hell did we let this happen? And when are we going to do something about it?



  1. when the very rich talk about caring for the workers, I start checking for microphones under the chairs -- and then I run away.

  2. I'd say talk is cheap, but with that bunch everything they do costs us plenty.


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