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
"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
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