Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘American Rights at Work’

Survey: Small Business Owners Say Unions Good for Business

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Image: James ParksDespite U.S. Chamber of Commerce propaganda, the nation’s small business owners recognize the value of employees forming a union, according to a new survey by Americans Rights at Work (ARAW). The survey was released yesterday, the same day the Chamber opened its annual small business summit.

Some 80 percent of the small business owners and self-employed individuals surveyed agreed that “strong unions make the free market system stronger.” A significant majority—54 percent—strongly agreed.

ARAW Executive Director Kimberly Freeman Brown says:

We are learning that small business owners across America support the rights of employees to organize unions, believing not only that it makes good business sense, but also that strong unions make the free market system stronger.

A full 69 percent of the respondents said it was very important to their businesses that “Congress enact legislation that rewards responsible employers who respect their workers’ right to join a union.”

Brown added:

Small business leaders are showing us that there is a path to a “win-win” economy in America. Employers and workers can both generate success and share in the rewards of their hard work together.

The online survey included 1,055 respondents who identify themselves as small business owners or self-employed individuals. Click here to read the full results of the survey, “Surveying the Small Business Owner: The Value of Unions In America.”

Among other results, the survey found:

  • Some 52 percent of small business owners express strong concern that “unions have been weakened so much that our economy has actually been hurt.”
  • Nearly three out of five—58 percent—strongly agreed that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person.”
  • A huge 72 percent strongly agreed that “a good business person can make a profit and respect their workers’ choice to form a union.”

As one politically independent small business owner in Virginia said:

When workers form unions, they can secure benefits and rights in the workplace, including a decent wage and health care. They have economic and job stability. Unions lift workers and workers lift the economy. It’s as simple as that.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris.

Corporate Hypocrisy on Bargaining Highlights Need for Employee Free Choice

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The misleading attacks by Big Business on the Employee Free Choice Act now are aimed at the provision that would guarantee that workers can get a fair first contract. Their scare tactics are not only misleading, they’re hypocritical.

Right now, workers lack a legal means to ensure they get a fair first contract. Recent research shows that even after workers successfully win a union and the ability to bargain, they’re too often blocked from getting a fair first contract. Fifty-two percent of workers don’t have a contract a full year after the election, and 37 percent don’t have a first contract two years after the election. For too many workers, the promise of the freedom to bargain is out of reach because the law doesn’t offer them any help.

The Employee Free Choice Act provides a process to help first-time bargainers to reach an agreement, through mediation and, for issues the parties are unable to resolve on their own, arbitration. The reason we need first-contract arbitration is to create an incentive for companies to bargain voluntarily with their workers.

According to research from American Rights at Work, the record of first-contract arbitration provisions in the public sector and in Canada show that disputes rarely reach the arbitration stage; in most cases, the process works to help workers and their employers reach a contract on their own.

Yet corporations are increasing their negative attacks on this provision even though they frequently require consumers to commit to arbitration.

Supporters of the freedom to form unions are hitting this corporate disinformation campaign directly, in the field, online and in the press. American Rights at Work is taking on corporate hypocrisy with a new print ad running today in key newspapers. The ad demonstrates how corporations are attacking the idea of arbitration when it involves their employees—while supporting arbitration in a variety of areas where it benefits them.

As the new ad notes, corporations prefer to use arbitration in consumer disputes, personal injury claims, home construction contracts, nursing home injuries and conflicts related to real estate, credit cards and banking.

Business trade groups even wrote to Congress last year saying arbitration is an “efficient, effective” way to resolve disputes, reported The New York Times, and companies put arbitration provisions into 75 percent of consumer contracts.

So, if corporations want to require arbitration in so many other instances, why are they so afraid of the possibility of arbitration—only after months of negotiations—over a first contract for their employees?

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s presidential candidate website, Working Families Vote 2008. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Seth spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe—but the battles of U.S. politics are even more entertaining.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Blog on June 11, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Employee Free Choice Act: A Signature Battle for Our Future

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

At the three-day America’s Future Now! conference going on now in Washington, D.C., many workshops are focused on empowering people and building a stronger, fairer economy, and few issues are more critical to those goals than the Employee Free Choice Act and restoring workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.

At a session this morning on the Employee Free Choice Act, some of the people most involved in the fight to pass the bill discussed why we need it and how we’re going to make it happen.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the leadership in the Senate is strongly behind the bill and he won’t back down on giving real freedom to workers who want a union, making sure workers can get a first contract and that there are meaningful penalties to violations of workers’ freedom.

If senators refuse to compromise, if they refuse to come to the table in good faith, I will take the original bill to the floor and demand an up-or-down vote. We will see where everyone stands, and working people can vote accordingly.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), talked about the 1930s, when the expansion of collective bargaining helped rebuild the economy by giving workers a stake in the economy. We need to give workers that power again, he said:

You will never revive this economy or the buying power of American workers unless American workers have a seat at the table, a voice, the ability to collectively bargain.

Cohen told the story of Sara Steffens, a prize-winning journalist who, with her co-workers, faced massive employer intimidation while trying to form a union. The United States is nearly unique among industrial democracies in the world because here workers like Steffens face a management veto and management abuses over what should be their choice to form a union. CEOs and corporate lobbyists are spending tens of millions of dollars, Cohen said, to block the Employee Free Choice Act and keep their control over the process. That’s why we need a strong and united progressive front behind this bill, Cohen said:

We need to say to every senator, which side are you on? Are you on the side of Sara Steffens, or are you on the side of the Chamber of Commerce, making the same arguments they made in 1935? Some people are saying this isn’t the time, but this is exactly the time. It’s the time to rebuild the middle class.

Former Rep. David Bonior, chairman of American Rights at Work, said there needs to be a tie between the union movement and the broader progressive community, because we have common goals: making sure people have health care, fair wages, safety in the workplace and dignity and power in their own lives. We have the ability to change this country in a fundamental way, Bonior said. He offered a strong case that the Employee Free Choice Act is at the heart of the change our country needs.

We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. We will do it. This is a struggle that’s been going on for decades and the injustice of it is ringing out.

We’ve watched our economy take a nosedive. It’s obvious that CEOs and corporations have gone too far, and everyone is paying a price. Those who have been calling the shots the last eight years, they put profits ahead of people—now they have the nerve to say that progressive policies will hurt the economy, as if they were experts?

Bonior said that you strengthen the economy from the bottom up, by giving workers, not their bosses, the choice about forming a union.

If you work hard, you should get a decent wage. If you get sick, you should have decent health care. If you put in a lifetime of work, you should get a pension. That’s the American dream. There’s no history of a strong middle class without collective bargaining…the Employee Free Choice Act will empower people.

Bonior said that over the past decade, 90 percent of wage growth went to the top 10 percent of earners, 59 percent of growth went to only 1 percent of earners—and a staggering 34 percent of wage growth went to the very top 0.1 percent of earners. That hurts the economy, and it’s a striking contrast to the fairer, more balanced wage growth when workers had a real choice to form a union. It’s due directly to the relentless attacks against workers who are trying to form unions, he said.

Bonior closed with a strong message for President Barack Obama and his economic team:

It is not good enough to go back to what we had, because what we had did not work and is not just and we will not stand enough.

We all have a stake in empowering more workers to have unions.

Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, said that the Employee Free Choice Act is a critical step in history.

The election of Obama is a testament to the long history of the civil rights movement and the progressive coalition—we haven’t won everything yet, Henderson said, but we look at real changes like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and it’s striking to think how much things have changed. But we need the Employee Free Choice Act as well, said Henderson.

It’s not just about what unions do for individuals—although that’s critical—but what they do for communities, Henderson said.

We support it because it’s fair, because it’s the right thing to do, because it will transform this country. We need to turn up the heat to make sure that Congress deals with the fundamental needs of American workers.

Harkin, like Henderson, said the changes in Washington since the election are obvious—with a president, Barack Obama, who co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in the Senate, and a strong secretary of labor, Hilda Solis. The next change we need is to give workers the bargaining rights they need.

The American people know the economy is broken, and they know the best bet for strengthening the middle class is giving them the right to organize. And the best way to do that is through the Employee Free Choice Act.

Workers need an easy way to say, “Yes, I want a union,” without being harassed, without being intimidated, without being fired.

About the Author: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on June 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Note: for more information on the Employee Free Choice Act visit this resource page compiled by Workplace Fairness http://p2pt0.wetpaint.com/page/EFCA+Resources

On Labor Day, a New TV Campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

September 1 is Labor Day — a day to celebrate America’s workers. Our country has celebrated Labor Day for more than a century as an official national holiday, a day to honor those who work to build America. Unfortunately there hasn’t been much to celebrate for Labor Day lately; the middle class is being gutted, income inequality is the greatest since 1928, and only 12% of our workforce can say they’re members of a union. Let’s just say the last 8 years haven’t helped, either.

But starting Labor Day 2008, workers’ rights advocacy group American Rights at Work is taking to the airwaves with a national TV ad campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act. You can see the ad — part of a $5 million effort — on CNN and MSNBC, and in 7 states: Alaska, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Oregon. The state-based ads will focus on educating the public on the positions’ of political leaders, and urging the public to call them to express their support for the legislation in the Senate.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a bill that will take on the critical issues facing America’s struggling middle class by making it easier for people to form or join a union. One of the main aims of the bill is to bring back balance to the workplace; right now, even if 100% of your coworkers wanted to join a union, your CEO could veto your decision. What the Employee Free Choice Act does is take away CEOs’ veto power, giving workers a free choice to have a union if they want it.

It passed the House last year and got 51 votes in the Senate before it was blocked by a Republican filibuster (a vote for which John McCain actually showed up…to vote against the bill).

Our ad campaign also comes out to set the record straight in response to anti-union, corporate-funded front groups stopping at nothing to mislead the American public about the Employee Free Choice Act. The corporate special interests that are against improving workers’ standard of living do not represent a majority of the public. A poll released last week by the nonpartisan Drum Major Institute found that 68 percent of middle class Americans wish their member of Congress had voted in favor of the bill.

We need the Employee Free Choice Act because we need more America to have more union members. When unions are strong, the economy is strong. Not only do unions you the ability to negotiate in your workplace, but they lift up even those who aren’t union members. And get this: if you have a heart attack, you’re 5.5% more likely to survive if your nurse is a union member.

So during this Labor Day season, take the time to reflect on America’s workers, past and present, and how they’ve helped our country. Then get ready to help make our economy work for everyone again by joining our campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act. (And if you like our ad, chip in to help keep it on the air.)

About the Author: Michael Whitney is a progressive Internet strategist and web producer who got his start in online politics as one of the co-founders of Generation Dean, the youth outreach organization of Howard Dean’s presidential campaign. Now he coordinates the new media efforts of the workers’ rights advocacy group American Rights at Work, where he’s worked since 2004. Michael says, “Rush Limbaugh called me “clueless” once. He went into rehab two days later. I win!”

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