BREWER, Maine — As the debate over workers’ rights heats up again in Washington, D.C., with the introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act, some Mainers are organizing in support.
A group of about 20 held a rally Wednesday morning at Food AND Medicine in Brewer, an organization that formed in 2002 to assist laid-off workers with food, medicine and other necessities. Jack McKay, director of Food AND Medicine and the Eastern Maine Labor Council, called the event a success if for no other reason than it keeps the debate going.
“We’re committed to workers’ rights, and we think this idea has significant support in Washington,” he said.
Supporters claim that the EFCA would, among other things, allow workers to choose a union without fear of employer coercion or intimidation. U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced the bill this week as a means to make it easier for workers to bargain with their employers for better wages and health care. If passed, the law would make the most substantive changes to U.S. labor laws since 1935.
Linda Morris, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1989 and a blood bank collection specialist with the American Red Cross in Bangor, traveled to Washington to support the bill in person.
“I am very excited to be on Capitol Hill on the day this important bill is introduced,” Morris said in a statement. “I know from experience that the deck is stacked against you when you try to form a union under the current law. The Employee Free Choice Act would change that so more workers would have a voice on the job to negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions.”
Opponents of the bill believe it will lead to more job losses. The Employee Freedom Action Committee took out a full-page ad in The New York Times this week condemning the idea, even quoting Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, who said unionization caused long-term unemployment.
“EFCA will strip employees of their right to a secret ballot vote when deciding whether to join a union,” said Rick Berman, executive director of the Employee Freedom Action Committee.
The National Restaurant Association also issued a statement this week opposing the bill for proposing “dramatic and harmful changes.”
“Should Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, employees effectively lose their right to private-ballot elections. The bill would establish a so-called ‘card-check’ union organizing system, in which a majority of employees simply sign a card in favor of union representation,” a spokeswoman said.
Obama himself has supported the Employee Free Choice Act, as have Vice President Joe Biden and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. In general, House and Senate Democrats support the bill while Republicans do not.
Supporters in Maine, particularly those in the farming industry, say workers’ rights are integral to creating sustainable agriculture.
“The EFCA would provide a framework for some agricultural employees to organize based upon democratic votes, would impose meaningful penalties on employers who break the law during an organizing campaign and would facilitate fair resolutions of first contract disputes,” Thomas Young of Bangor’s Orizaba Farm said at Wednesday’s event in Brewer.