Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Don’t Be Fooled: “Defense of the American Worker” Award Is Not a Good Thing

February 26th, 2009 | Lauren Weiner

Two weeks ago, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a big-business backed group, “honored” Senator Richard Burr and U.S. Representative Howard Coble each with a “Defense of the American Worker.”  That title, of course, is a distraction.  Anyone familiar with Sen. Burr’s and Rep. Coble’s record would never consider them friends of workers, especially given that they have the among the worst records in Congress on workers’ rights.

Both have spent their career in Congress putting middle-class workers on the defensive. Whether it was their votes against raising the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, or their votes against protecting overtime pay, or their most recent votes against President Obama’s plan to create or save 3.5 million jobs even in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Senator Burr and Congressman Coble are no friends to North Carolina’s struggling middle-class workers.  Both rejected providing millions of children with health insurance and opposed legislation that ensured women received equal pay for equal work, while Burr voted for CAFTA despite saying he would oppose it and Coble had no interest in trying to keep struggling homeowners in their houses, voting against legislation to prevent foreclosures.

At a time when the unemployment rate is rising steadily, workers need support now more than ever.  But this faux award does nothing but undermine the hard work of so many Americans.

More to the point, it emphasizes the urgent need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Amid the worst economic crisis in a generation, organized labor — which built the middle-class in this country — is needed and wanted more than ever because unions are the single best tool to create an economy that works for all. More than half of U.S. workers — nearly 60 million — say they would join a union right now if they could.  Union members make 28 percent more and are 52 percent more likely to have job-provided health care and nearly three times more likely to have defined-benefit pensions than nonunion workers.   The Employee Free Choice Act is about fixing a badly broken system for forming unions that allows big business to routinely harass intimidate or even fire workers who try to organize.  In fact, 25 percent of employers faced with an organizing effort fire workers for their support of a union.

So the reality is if Senator Burr and Congressman Coble were true defenders of middle-class workers, they would support the Employee Free Choice Act and help restore North Carolina workers’ freedom to organize and their opportunity to lift up the entire community.

About the Author: Lauren Weiner is the Deputy Communications Director for Americans United for Change, a progressive advocacy group. Prior to that she was a TV producer for a regional cable network and worked in production for ABC News. She has done political research for numerous candidates on the national and state level, including the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign. She has a masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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