Sunday, April 19, 2009

EFCA Needed To Rebuild Middle Class

By Mike Semm, President
IBEW local 1597
Grand Island, Nebraska

A rising tide won’t lift all boats if most boats have holes in them. That’s the verdict on the last three decades of debt-driven, “trickle down” economics.We know the economy has been broken since long before the latest financial tsunami.Just look at the numbers - worker productivity soared over the last twenty-five years, leading to record profits. And yet, wages have 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.

So where did all those profits go? You guessed it! The wealth that we created, our life savings and our pensions, were unfairly used to fund the fairy tale financial schemes that were concocted on Wall Street. As it turns out, you can’t really spin straw into gold.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 the products that they’re producing.

Already, the new administration has moved quickly to stem the crisis, extending health care to millions of uninsured children and funding programs to keep families in their homes. The president has a plan to rein in corporate excess with new regulations.

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.

With the Employee Free Choice Act, workers would be able to choose between the two current methods of forming a union - either with an election or by gathering a majority of signed authorization cards. The only difference is that today, the 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. To be sure, some corporations would rather keep things the way they are. A coalition of powerful corporate interests - including several bailout recipients - has amassed millions of dollars to try to defeat this critical legislation through several front groups. But as poll after poll has shown, their efforts have floundered. After all, why would anyone listen to the same schemers who got us into this mess?

Meanwhile, workers and managers at hundreds of successful companies like AT&T and Kaiser have already benefited from the less-divisive majority sign-up process when workers expressed their desire to unionize. Unions and businesses have worked together to set up 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.

That’s how America can succeed in the global economy. We won’t be the best by trying to be cheaper than China. We cannot continue racing to the bottom any longer, because there isn’t much further to go.

True wealth comes not from credit cards and speculation, but hard work. That’s what the American Dream has always been about - and we have a duty to make that dream a reality once more. The Employee Free Choice Act is the key to rebuilding our nation’s middle class and making our economy work for all of us.

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