Monday, April 27, 2009

Know-Nothing Newt

by Tula Connell

Grandstanding is a favorite pastime of the former speaker of the House, Republican Newt Gingrich. Truth, however, has never played a big role in his self-trumpeting.

In a recent Politico column, Gingrich advances a laundry list of falsehoods about the Employee Free Choice Act. It’s the latest grab at public attention in his angling for a place in the 2012 elections.

First, he pushes the lie that the Employee Free Choice Act takes away the secret ballot process for workers deciding whether to form a union. The Employee Free Choice Act does not take away the secret ballot. It gives to workers the right to use an already legal process for deciding on unionization—a streamlined process called majority sign-up, or card check.

The bill adds choice for workers, who will decide which process to use. The Employee Free Choice Act is an amendment to existing federal labor law that makes no change whatsoever in the current election procedures.

So, Newt: How about reading the Employee Free Choice Act text and pointing out where it says the secret ballot is taken away? Hint: You won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

After this straw man argument, Gingrich purports to have found another insidious provision of the bill—binding arbitration. He’s referring to a portion of the Employee Free Choice Act that would guarantee that workers at the bargaining table are able to achieve a contract.

The Employee Free Choice Act provides a process for helping parties in a newly formed union bargain a contract through mediation and arbitration, if necessary, to resolve outstanding disputes. These tools are necessary because 44 percent of newly formed unions never reach a first contract.

Current law actually provides an incentive for companies that fail to reach a contract. Managers negotiating a first contract with employees drag out the process as long as they can, sometimes literally for years.

Newt should talk with employees like Johanna Moon, a 25-year veteran of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. Despite joining the UAW two years ago, Moon and her colleagues still do not have a contract. The workers formed a union because, despite many years on the job, they were living paycheck to paycheck, and some had no health coverage. If the Employee Free Choice Act was law, these workers would have a contract. Clearly, they need one badly.

Newt then sheds crocodile tears for the workers who didn’t vote for a union, saying a contract would be foisted upon them under the Employee Free Choice Act. Guess what, Newt? Probably not many workers would reject better wages and affordable health care. Would you?

Gingrich also sounds the [false] alarm over companies going out of business with unionized workforces. Here’s a little history lesson for you, Newt: The 1950s, a decade in which the United States saw its greatest unionization rate, was also, not coincidentally, among the most prosperous decades of American history.

Gingrich uses a discredited study by corporate mouthpiece Anna Layne-Farrar to assert that greater unionization would worsen unemployment. Economist Lawrence Mishel calls this “crackpot economics.” Mishel says that using the study’s logic, the United States would have “negative unemployment” as a result of the decrease in union membership over the past 30 years. In fact, many other countries, including England, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway, have higher unionization and lower unemployment than the United States.

Here’s someone else Newt needs to talk with: Colorado small business owner Larry Martinez. He’s one of the hundreds of business owners across the country who knows the freedom to form unions and bargain isn’t just good for workers—it’s good for the whole economy. Says Martinez:

I believe this bill is a smart piece of legislation, which makes it easier for workers to have a voice at the workplace. I am not frightened in the least by the concept of sitting with employees and negotiating around wages and benefits. Employee buy-in for making my company more profitable is in my best interest and that of my employees.

Profits. That’s an all-American concept we can all support, one that companies with unionized workers see more of because of the high productivity of a unionized workforce.

Newt then plays up the supposed bogeyman of government intervention in the private sector. But guess what, Newt: Those secret ballots are gathered by and counted by the government. The government already is in the process.

As for those billions Gingrich cites as being spent by unions on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act? It isn’t the union movement spending that kind of money. It’s Gingrich’s corporate buddies who have launched a mega-million-dollar campaign to fight workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.

The bottom line is that Gingrich is spewing more red herring arguments that aren’t based in fact and that serve only one bottom line: His political ambitions.

American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations

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