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Strong unions are good for America's workers, businesses

Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

In the days when I was a union member and worked in a closed shop, I liked the fact that all the people who worked in management were former union members and therefore the environment was not toxic. We were able to avoid a lot of the nastiness people encounter among those who think of collective bargaining units in the same way they do terrorist cells.

One would think with the obvious greed exposed in the financial arena that led to our current economic crisis, people would get over the attitude that labor unions are nothing more than gangs of pirates.

Before this recession, the wages of the working class were stagnant even though the economy was booming. And let’s face it, most employers like it that way. Most of them are not interested in creating a fair playing field; they believe in winner-take-all. A lot of them don’t see the point in paying their employees benefits when workers can sign up with the state welfare office for health care, food stamps and subsidized housing. Why shouldn’t the executives take home fat bonuses and let the public foot the bill for their employees? I truly don’t think there is any way the Employee Free Choice Act could be written so that these business owners wouldn’t object to it. They don’t want their employees to unionize, and it’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, no matter how prosperous some businesses and industries become, many of them would rather ship the jobs overseas than pay their workers an adequate wage. The days when Americans had the best interest of other Americans at heart have long gone. The working class will have to fight for every dime it can get.

Apparently, these business people don’t even understand the importance of maintaining the middle class. They seem to be hellbent on wiping them out as well. When they look at Third World countries where there are only two classes, the very rich and the very poor, can’t they see that at the rate they are going, the country is heading in that direction?

When we had to walk the picket line to secure pay increases and benefits, I never heard anyone complain about the fact that our fellow employees who lived in states that didn’t have closed shops, many of whom didn’t belong to the union, also gained the same privileges as we did. The thing union members have in common is that they think workers should receive fair wages for the work they do. And it pleases me to know that those who remained with the company until retirement are now enjoying good pensions and good health insurance. After all, these people worked hard for years for these benefits.

When workers began to walk away from union membership and thought that they could bargain individually on their own, how many years did they have to wait for an increase even in the minimum wage? I hoped they learned something and will write letters to their senators and representatives urging them to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. While there are some employers who value the work their employees do, I doubt they are in the majority. And I honestly think that most workers waiting to organize a union will have retired before their employers grant them that right.

The way some members of Congress and business leaders talk, you would think Chrysler and General Motors executives never made a dime and all the money they made selling cars went into the pockets of members of the United Auto Workers union. The jets in which automakers rode to Washington D.C. on that first trip to meet with Congress belonged to the union members, right?

Anyone watching television has obviously witnessed the absolute disrespect many members of Congress have for the people who work on assembly lines. I would be absolutely ashamed and embarrassed if anyone in my family displayed such despicable manners toward people who actually work because they have the nerve to ask for fair wages for the jobs they do.

As a former union member, I’m pretty sure that when the automakers signed the union contracts, they were confident they would make enough money selling cars to pay workers' salaries and make an adequate profit. Otherwise, they would still be negotiating. And, of course, no one seems to mind that foreign automakers have come into America and undermined American carmakers and automobile workers.

Unfortunately, as sad as it is, this has become the American way.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.


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Comments

John Schultz March 31, 2009 | 10:05 a.m.

If one goes to the link to the EFCA bill provided above, you can see that Rep. George Miller of California is the lead sponsor on this bill. In 2001, the same Rep. Miller and several other Democratic legislators sent the below letter to a Mexican state encouraging them "to use the secret ballot in all union recognition elections."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Unionc...

Why would legislators ask this of a Mexican state, but not ensure a secret ballot for American residents?

If there are problems in the union recognition process due to roadblocks thrown up by employers, then work to remove those impediments. The EFCA only opens the door to union intimidation of those who do not wish to sign a card.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 31, 2009 | 10:58 a.m.

Mr. Schultz,

This is the third time you have mentioned this in comments. Perhaps you should read the proposed legislation. It states

"‘(6) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, whenever a petition shall have been filed by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging that a majority of employees in a unit appropriate for the purposes of collective bargaining wish to be represented by an individual or labor organization for such purposes, the Board shall investigate the petition. If the Board finds that a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations designating the individual or labor organization specified in the petition as their bargaining representative and that no other individual or labor organization is currently certified or recognized as the exclusive representative of any of the employees in the unit, the Board shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or labor organization as the representative described in subsection (a)"

It does not do away with the secret ballot, it simply provides an additional means of forming a union that is not predicated on the action of the company to hold elections. Under the current EFCA legislation, workers can still organize a union via the secret ballot.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 31, 2009 | 11:21 a.m.

I believe this is only the second time I have posted on EFCA here, but yes, I am well aware that unions can still be organized by secret ballot under the proposed legislation. If that is so, and Rep. Miller thinks it important that a Mexican state do the same, why is he not requiring the same of American unions? Do you see the hypocrisy in his stance?

Do you really think unions (not the employees, not the employers) will choose a secret ballot over card check? Seems they believe there is some power to be gained by them due to this legislation. I say fix the impediments that allow employers to drag out the certifications of unions and keep the secret ballot (and only the secret ballot) for allowing the employees to make that choice. I'm sorry, but I trust employers more than I do unions.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote March 31, 2009 | 12:12 p.m.

I don't speak for Rep. Miller, but I assume he thinks secret ballots are important in Mexico so that workers don't feel intimidated to join the already established non-independent pro-company unions which negotiate an estimated 90% of all collective bargaining contracts in that country. A situation that is not at all comparable to the current labor situation here in the US.
The problem in the US isn't that workers wish to establish a separate union from one already in existence at a given company. Rather they want to unionize at a company in which there is no union.
Under the current secret ballot mechanism for organizing unions, companies have numerous mechanisms to delay and thwart a union election. EFCA seeks to redress this problem.
You state that you trust employers more than unions. Why is that?
Here are some statistics (www.americanrightsatwork.org/publication...) : 4 out of 10 workers who ask for union elections don't get a chance to vote; 5.5 years is the median time it takes the NRLB to resolve its "highest priority" cases involving back pay; $0 is the current fine the NRLB can fine an employer for firing pro-union employees; 30% of employers illegally fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives; in 46% of NLRB supervised elections workers report employer lawlessness both before and during the election.
I'd be interested in hearing what malfeasance unions are accused of perpetrating. I'll even help you out, 4.6% of workers report feeling pressure to sign a card during a majority sign-up campaign in contrast to 23% reporting coercion on behalf of management to oppose the union.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 31, 2009 | 1:16 p.m.

"Under the current secret ballot mechanism for organizing unions, companies have numerous mechanisms to delay and thwart a union election. EFCA seeks to redress this problem. "

If the problem is the employer have too much power in the process, then let's craft legislation to take some of that edge away (I think I have heard some call for holding the election much sooner) and keep the secret ballot. I'm not certain that letting the unions run about seeking signature cards is the best way to "redress the problem." Yes, it's anecdotal and I don't have time to dig up the cites as I'm about to run some errands for the afternoon, but I've read some stories about unions and their organizers being less than "polite" to employees when attempting to organize.

Ideally, I would like to see the NLRB go away (unless someone can show me where it's authorized in the Constitution) since it seems to be another government agency doing its job poorly when one looks at the data in the link you posted.

Doesn't the EFCA also call for mandated arbitration if a collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached within 90 days after the election? Seems to be, if I'm reading the text toward the end of Ms. Nolen's link. Yet another case where government gets involved between the employer and the employee, something I don't cotton to all that much.

(Report Comment)

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