American unions are celebrating Labor Day this year with
greater expectations for a resurgence than they've had in many years, thanks to
their political allies.
Labor is aiming for a sharp reversal of what has been a
steady decline in union membership and influence, and expects to get it with
the active support of influential Democrats led by presidential candidate
Barack Obama and key members of Congress.
What unions want most from the Democrats is the proposed
Employee Free Choice Act, which would knock down the barriers that have stunted
union growth for most of the past half-century, so that today only about 12
percent of the nation's workers belong to unions.
Obama and many other Democrats have already lined up
behind the proposed law, and unions are mounting major campaigns aimed at
turning out more than 13 million union-oriented voters to help elect them and
any other Democrats who will join them.
Many employers, aided and abetted by the notoriously
anti-labor Bush administration, have been able to make union membership
meaningless, if not impossible, by illegally interfering in unionization
The National Labor Relations Act, which was enacted as a
way to encourage unionization during the grim economic days of the 1930s, has
become feeble and so poorly enforced that it's routinely violated.
Employers spy on union organizers, fire or threaten to
fire or otherwise discipline pro-union workers, force employees to attend
meetings at which they rail against unions, and sometimes threaten to lay off
workers or even go out of business if employees unionize. Workers who complain
risk retaliation and can expect little or no help from the government.
The Employee Free Choice Act calls for much stiffer fines
of up to $20,000 per violation for such employer violations of workers' union
rights. The act's 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 done in most cases. The law was like
that originally, with no lengthy election campaigns and thus much less
opportunity for employers to intimidate workers.
The act came close to passage last year, clearing the
House handily but failing to get the 60-vote majority needed to overcome a
filibuster by Republican opponents in the Senate.
Opponents included GOP presidential nominee John McCain,
who the AFL-CIO rightly considers an enemy of labor.
McCain's record shows he favors seriously weakening, if
not eliminating, the worker's right to strike, by allowing employers to simply
replace strikers - permanently. He also has favored a proposed right-to-work
law that would endanger unions everywhere, and has voted against granting full
union rights to thousands of government employees.
Obama, one of the Employee Free Choice Act's chief Senate
sponsors, promises to maintain his unequivocal for the measure if he makes it
to the White House and to otherwise "strengthen the ability of workers to
He says his appointees to positions dealing with unions
would support workers' rights, unlike Bush's appointees to those posts, and
that he'd try to reverse decisions by the Bush-appointed majority on the
National Labor Relations Board that have taken union rights from thousands of
Obama says he'd work as well to prohibit employers from
permanently replacing strikers and would seek to increase the minimum wage and
index it to inflation so it would rise as the cost-of-living rose.
He promises to negotiate trade agreements that would
guarantee workers fair treatment, promises to try to discourage companies from
sending jobs overseas, and promises to try to create at least two million jobs
in this country through a public works program designed to rebuild the nation's
Important issues, all, to organized labor. It's also
important to labor that Obama's vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joe Biden,
has a long record of taking pro-union positions.
No wonder unions are waging what's shaping up as probably
the most expensive and extensive political campaign in labor history in support
of Obama and the like-minded Democratic candidates for Congress. It's expected
to end up costing even more than the $66 million union campaign that played a
major role in the Democrats regaining control of Congress in the 2006 midterm
More than 100,000 unionists joined in that effort,
registering and turning out voters, circulating millions of leaflets,
contacting millions of voters directly, staging innumerable rallies and
demonstrations, and more. Union members also accounted for nearly one-fourth of
all voters, and they favored Democratic candidates by a margin of three-to-one.
This time, labor is seeking even greater rewards - a
filibuster-proof Democratic Congress and one of the most labor-friendly
presidents ever. It's possible, even probable. What more could labor ask on its
day of celebration?
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister