Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is arguably one of the most significant
pieces of labor legislation to benefit American workers that has
been proposed in about three generations.
since there has not been too much time wasted on the subject in
the daily papers and on the nightly news, we have to search out
small indications about the possibility of overcoming the devastation
that was visited on workers and their unions with the passage of
the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.
proposal is that important - 60 years and counting since many of
the rights of workers were taken from them by Taft-Hartley.
June 27, new Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, addressed the graduates
of the National Labor College,
established by the AFL-CIO in Silver
Spring, Md., just outside the nation’s capital.
it’s true that her speech was not long, one would have thought she
at least would have mentioned EFCA. It’s the bill that would allow
workers to organize their place of employment by a simple majority
of the workers in the bargaining unit signing up to join.
short name is “card check” and that pair of words sends chills of
fear running up the backs of corporate CEOs, who believe that their
tens of millions in salaries, benefits, perquisites, stock options,
and golden parachutes will be threatened if workers made decent
wages, had health care through insurance, and a retirement that
did not require them to live in poverty.
Solis came to the job with good trade union credentials. Her father
was a member of the Teamsters union and worked in a battery recycling
plant. Her mother worked in a toy factory and was a member of the
joined their respective unions, she told the graduates, “to ensure
they received a fair wage and good benefits, that their workplace
was safe, that they were paid the overtime they earned, and that
they could retire with dignity.”
there is no doubt, she added, that “unionized workers are more knowledgeable
and more empowered than those who are not able to organize.”
secretary told the graduates that they were going out from the unique
institution to which they had been attached for several years into
difficult economic times, with the unemployment rate approaching
10 percent and six million unemployed.
what she termed “underrepresented” communities, the unemployment
rate is even higher - 11.3 percent among Latinos and 15 percent
among African-Americans. Among youth, the rate is 22 percent. These,
of course, are only the official statistics, which don’t count those
who are not seeking work. The number of such workers since the days
of the Great Communicator - the early 1980s forward - is not known.
safety and health, wage and hour law enforcement, and job creation
are on her to-do list and are priorities for the administration,
she told the graduates.
the enforcement of the nation’s labor laws, Secretary Solis assured
the class of 2009: “Let
me be very clear on this issue……the Labor Department is back in
the enforcement business.”
said also that she intends to “strengthen collective bargaining,”
which was the closest she came to mentioning union organizing and
way of example of the strength of workers (or lack thereof) on the
job, there was a devastating fire in a chicken plant in Hamlet,
N.C., in 1991, that killed 25 workers and injured at least 49 others.
The violations were so egregious that the owner of the plant was
sentenced to 20 years in prison, as part of a plea bargain so that
his son would not go to jail. However, justice being what it is,
he was released after about four years.
the time of the Hamlet crimes, the country had seen the beginning
of one of the more vicious periods of anti-union activity in the
modern era, starting with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and that
period continues today.
was calculated that, if the Hamlet workers had waited for a government
inspector of some kind to point out and correct the violations at
the Imperial plant, they would have had to wait some 80 years.
there was some hard news - even a small amount - in the secretary’s
speech, it was that the U.S. Labor Department is going to hire nearly
670 investigators, inspectors, and other program staff to carry
on the mission of the department.
of governments and administrations can go awry in an instant. The
only real protection in the workplace - health and safety, wage
and hour, grievance settlement and arbitration, collective bargaining...all
of workers’ issues - is an organization of the workers, themselves.
In other words, a union.
do not protect workers. Workers protect workers, as they protect
each other under the umbrella of a union contract, negotiated by
workers from the local shop. But, to get the protection that a contract
represents, there must be good, strong protective laws at all levels
of government and they must be enforced.
Secretary Solis has said she will do, but when she spoke to the
graduates of the National Labor College - people who likely will
do the work of the union movement for the rest of their lives -
she had to know that their concern was for their right to freely
organize, as simply and directly as possible. That’s what EFCA does.
she did not mention the bill that is in trouble in the Senate does
not bode well for its passage or that it will even get to President
Obama’s desk. The administration is going to have to push it for
the bill to pass in the Senate.
question is not whether Obama likes the idea of card-check, but
how hard is he going to fight for it, when he’s faced with so many
other monumental issues like single-payer health care, a growing
military and defense budget, and an expanding war in Afghanistan
Solis said that one of her role models is Dolores Huerta, a founder
with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers union. Huerta’s quote
that inspires the secretary is: “Walk the street with us into history.
Get off the sidewalk.”
in the administration should be speaking out about EFCA, and if
it isn’t Solis, who should it be? Otherwise, it could be another
two generations - like single-payer health care - before the opportunity
arises once again to do right by the rank-and-file of Americans.
the president and the labor secretary should act as if card-check
is right there, in the middle of the street. They need to “get off
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer.
His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper
Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers
in New York State. In addition to labor work,
he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.