If Greenpeace called for more whale hunting or if a white supremacist group called for civil rights, would you question the messenger?
In Maine over the past four months we have been bombarded with ads from big business out to “defend worker rights” by defeating the Employee Free Choice Act. Yes, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, profits now take a back seat to workers’ rights! Jumping right on board, both Sens. Susan Collins and John McCain are also fighting for the rights of workers using the exact same talking points on EFCA.
The now-familiar ads, which come morning, noon and night on both TV and radio, use a Sopranos actor who is a “union mob boss” out to take away workers’ right to a private ballot.
There is the fact that only union members ever vote by private ballot on working conditions. Nonunion workers don’t vote on working conditions at all. But such pesky details aren’t about to slow down these spin doctors or their paymasters.
While big businesses fund the efforts, the groups have conveniently named themselves “Union Facts,” and the “Employee Freedom Action Committee” and now the “Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.” They say they’re for workplace democracy, but they’re doing everything they can to prevent workplace democracy, or anything that gives workers a real voice on the job.
Let’s look at the facts, first by asking who has voted by private ballot in the past year on working conditions.
The Eastern Maine Labor Council, the local central body of unions, recently did a report on private ballot voting surveying 26 affiliates. We found that just in the past year, these 26 affiliate unions held private ballot elections where 221 workers were elected to represent workers, including 14 presidents and 55 members of executive boards. In addition, these affiliates voted by private ballot on 22 collective bargaining agreements covering things like wages, benefits, vacation rights and the like. These tallies are only for the past year and therefore don’t catch the off-year elections.
Our unions have a proud, democratic tradition, not out of some sentimental feeling toward democracy, but rather because that is the most effective, sustainable way to run a membership-driven organization. Most of our unions are decades old, some over 100 years old. They have thrived through the years precisely due to their nature as strong democracies, where worker members have a say in the governance of the organization, and this in turn greatly betters their working conditions.
Private ballot voting is alive and well with union members. But what about nonunion workers? They don’t vote, by private ballot or otherwise, on working conditions or for representatives.
The Employee Free Choice Act is a good bill because it will aid workers in organizing a union in three basic ways. First, it allows a union to be formed when a majority of workers sign a card to support a union. Second, it provides for mediation if the union and the company can’t come to a first contract. Third, it increases the penalties on companies who break the law when workers organize for a union.
Our country is currently breaking statistical record after record that proves that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. EFCA will help restore a balance between workers and management.
At the Eastern Maine Labor Coun-cil we are proud that Reps. Mike Michaud and Tom Allen, along with Sen. Barack Obama, all support EFCA. It is unfortunate that neither Sen. John McCain nor Sen. Susan Collins support EFCA. I guess it’s to be expected McCain and Collins aren’t going to publicly say that workers need less of a voice at work and no opportunity to vote for representatives. Still, their talking points are a long way from “straight talk” or honesty.
A mark of a successful society is the strength of its middle class. EFCA is one way to rebuild America’s middle class.
I think the Maine people will come to see this ad campaign for what it is — a big lie. And they will increasingly support workers in their efforts to get a voice — and a vote — at work. From the way my phone has been ringing, it’s already happening.
Jack McKay is president of the Eastern Maine Labor Council, which is comprised of 35 unions representing over 6,000 members in Eastern Maine. It will hold a Labor Day celebration on Monday. For more information, go to www.gbaclc.org.