Labor - And A Whole Lot More

Labor's Choice Has To Be Obama
About Dick Meister
Labor Articles
Public Affairs Articles
Sports Articles
Travel Articles
Other Articles

Democrat Barack Obama supports the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. Republican John McCain opposes it. There you have one of the clearest possible illustrations of the basic differences between the presidential candidates - and one of the strongest possible reasons for working people to throw their support to Obama.

Passage of the Free Choice Act -- currently stalled in the Senate -- would give American workers the unfettered right to the unionization that's long been denied millions of them, despite its great importance to the economic well-being of everyone.

The proposed law would amend the 73-year-old National Labor Relations Act. The law was enacted as a way to encourage unionization and the growth of a substantial middle class, but it has become feeble and so poorly enforced that it's routinely violated - the main reason only about 12 percent of American workers are in unions, despite the much higher pay, benefits and other advantages of union membership.

Many employers, aided by the anti-labor Bush administration, have made union membership meaningless, if not impossible, by threatening to fire or discipline union supporters and otherwise illegally interfere in unionization drives. Even those relative few who recognize a union as their employees' representative often refuse to bargain with the union and punish employees who protest that. Fines for those and other infractions are slight, if even imposed.

The Free Choice Act calls for much stiffer fines and, among several other provisions aimed at cracking down on offenders, mandates that employers who stall in union contract negotiations will have the terms dictated by an arbitrator.

The key provision would automatically grant union recognition on the showing of union membership cards by a majority of an employer's workers, rather than holding an election, as is now usually done. The law was like that originally, with no lengthy election campaigns and thus much less opportunity for employers to intimidate workers.

Congress came close to passing the Free Choice Act last year. It cleared the House easily, but failed to get the 60-vote majority needed to overcome a filibuster by Republican opponents in the Senate. Sen. Obama voted for passage, of course, Sen. McCain against.

Obama promises to continue his strong support for the act if he makes it to the White house and to otherwise "strengthen the ability of workers to organize unions." And that's just one aspect of Obama's staunchly pro-labor position. He also promises, for example, that his appointees to positions dealing with unions will support workers' rights, unlike Bush appointees.

What's more, a President Obama would work to prohibit employers from permanently replacing striking workers and seek to increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation so it would rise as the cost-of-living rises. Among other promised actions, Obama says he would try to reverse decisions by the Bush-appointed majority on the National Labor Relations Board that have taken away union rights from thousands of workers.

So what might working people expect from a President McCain, other than his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act? Plenty, and none of it good.

McCain's record shows that he favors seriously weakening, if not eliminating, the worker's essential right to strike, by allowing employers to simply replace strikers - permanently. He's also favored a proposed federal right-to-work law that would endanger unions everywhere. He's voted against granting full union rights to airport screeners, fire fighters and police, claiming that government workers are "crippled by the fine print of the latest union contract."

The AFL-CIO rightly considers McCain an enemy of labor who "has spoken out against unions and consistently voted against collective bargaining rights for workers."

McCain attacks unions as "monopolies" that have been guilty of "serious excesses." He's been particularly critical of teachers' unions, arguing that "it's time to break the grip of the education monopoly that serves the union bosses at the expense of our children."

"Union bosses," indeed, McCain obviously is in company with George Bush and those innumerable other anti-labor Republicans. A vote for John McCain would be a vote for at least four more years of anti-worker policies in the White House -- in effect, at least four more years of Bush.

A vote for Barack Obama would be a vote for enlightened labor policies that would favor the right of workers to join together and bargain as equals with employers - their actual bosses -- and thus greatly improve the economic, political and social lives of all Americans.

Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister