Maine Labor council decries union voting ads

Posted Aug. 27, 2008, at 9:41 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — Calling them outright lies, officials from some of the region’s labor unions took aim Wednesday at a barrage of recent campaign advertisements claiming that the Employee Free Choice Act would take away workers’ right to a private ballot.

Singled out in the ads is U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, the Democratic 1st District congressman challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in her bid for re-election this fall.

Allen, along with U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine’s 2nd District, and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, are among the act’s co-sponsors, according to Jack McKay, president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council, which represents 35 affiliated union locals and more than 6,000 workers in eastern and central Maine.

During a news conference Wednesday, McKay and other union leaders said the myth about the federal legislation, which is stalled in Congress, is being perpetuated by three organizations based in Washington, D.C.,: Union Facts, the Employee Freedom Action Committee and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.

“They’re all backed by big business,” McKay said during the gathering at the labor council’s headquarters on Ivers Street in Brewer.

“The reason why we are holding this press conference today is there’s a huge campaign being [promulgated] by three D.C.-based organizations and their message has been [about] the same thing — union bosses are out to steal workers private ballots,” he said. “We just want to take a few moments to dissect this smear campaign and prove that this is a big lie.”

McKay said the Employee Free Choice Act would not take away workers’ right to vote by private ballot on working conditions.

According to McKay and regional union officials who joined him at the podium, the proposed legislation would make it easier for workers to organize into unions and negotiate contracts. The measure would also stiffen penalties for employers who intimidate and harass workers.

Union members “vote by private ballot all the time,” McKay said. As a matter of fact, unless you’re a union member, you never vote by private ballot about working conditions, he said. Union members vote on contracts for pay, for health care, for vacations, for job bidding.

“Union members in eastern Maine vote by private ballot all the time. Just like the sun rises in the east, this is not some big surprise,” McKay said.

“Nonunion members never vote on workplace issues ever by private ballot,” he said. “Wal-Mart workers [who are not unionized] do not vote on their wages and benefits.”

Wal-Mart and other nonunion workers never vote to elect representatives to defend their interests, McKay said.

“The idea that these big businesses are out to protect the private ballot is exactly opposite of what they are doing: They’re out to stop workers from voting in the workplace,” McKay said of the large corporations reportedly backing the ad campaign.

“This is a ridiculous campaign, and I think the people of Maine should see it as such. This is as absurd as [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] calling for a pig roast. It is as absurd as the KKK calling for civil rights,” he said.

Other union officials who spoke during Wednesday’s gathering in support of the act were Calvin Murphy of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1253, Renee Overlock of Branch 391 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and Barbara Lambaride of the Maine State Nurses Association.

During the news conference, the labor council released a report titled “Truth and Falsehoods” detailing the extensive private-ballot voting that has been conducted by union members affiliated with the council during the past year.

A survey of 26 affiliated union locals found that 221 workers were elected to office by private ballot, including 13 presidents, 13 vice presidents, 12 secretaries and seven treasurers, 55 executive board members and 121 other union officers. During the same period, 22 contracts and other labor agreements were negotiated, the council’s study found.

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