The US Chamber of Commerce is pouring more than 30 million dollars into the senatorial race to elect republicans in key states. The objective is to support “pro-business” candidates and avoid confronting an air-tight democratic majority that would be likely to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that was filibustered in the senate in 2007. To discuss the legislation and the campaign surrounding it, The Real News Network spoke to Stewart Acuff, Director of Organizing for the AFL-CIO and Bruce Raynor, General President of UNITE HERE.
US Chamber of Commerce targets unions
Producer: Carlo Basilone
US Chamber of Commerce TV ad
VOICEOVER: Unions have given so much money to so many politicians that they believe they can get Congress to pass something as un-American as the Employee “Forced” [First] Choice Act.
CARLO BASILONE (VOICEOVER), TRNN: The US Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobby group in the United States, is pouring more than $35 million into Senate races in an effort to prevent a Democratic majority large enough to push through a union organization bill. The bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, was first introduced in Congress in 2007, where it won a majority in both the House and the Senate but was thwarted by a Republican filibuster.
STEWART ACUFF, DIRECTOR OF ORGANIZING, AFL-CIO: Republicans led by Mitch McConnell filibustered it, and we got a majority vote against the filibuster, but we didn’t get the necessary 60 votes.
BASILONE: In a statement on the Chamber of Commerce Web site, they claimed that the Employee Free Choice Act will take away the right of workers to vote in a secret ballot. They state: “They want to take away workers’ ability to choose whether to join a union through secret ballot elections—where workers decide confidentially and in private. Once the majority of workers at a facility have been ‘persuaded’ to sign these cards, the union is certified.” (www.uschamber.com)
US Chamber of Commerce TV ad
VOICEOVER: The big labor unions are working overtime in Washington lobbying for a dangerous new bill. They’re filing [plotting] with members of Congress to strip workers of the fundamental protection of a private vote in union-organizing elections.
ACUFF: Corporate America is throwing everything they can at this bill. They’re spending $30 million this year; they’ll spend $100 million to $200 million next year. They’re doing everything they can to stop it. They’re trying to defeat the Democratic challengers in the Senate. They’re throwing everything at them, the ones who have pledged to support the Employer Free Choice Act.
US Chamber of Commerce TV ad
VOICEOVER: Al Franken backs a bill to take away your private vote in union elections. Ronnie Musgrove wants card check, taking away the private vote in union elections.
BASILONE: The chamber also funds a group called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which runs TV ads featuring mafia-type union bosses trying to intimidate workers.
Coalition for a Democratic Workplace TV ad
UNION BOSS (ACTOR): How you doing?
EMPLOYEE (ACTOR): Who are you?
UNION BOSS: What have you got there?
EMPLOYEE: My secret ballot.
UNION BOSS: Oh. Not anymore it ain’t.
EMPLOYEE: I—who are—?
VOICEOVER: Under a card-check law, workers would just sign a card, and everybody would know how they voted.
BRUCE RAYNOR, GENERAL PRESIDENT, UNITE HERE: The idea that the Employee Free Choice Act would take away workers’ right to a secret ballot is nonsense. The fact is the current system of workers organizing unions means that if a company doesn’t want their workers to organize a union, under the current law, basically, the workers can’t have a union. The workers have to sign cards to ask for an election. Once they ask for an election, then the companies campaign, they fire people, they have the right to require workers to sit for hours in one-on-one or group meetings where they berate them and scare them. And then there’s a vote conducted by the government at the workplace under the supervision of the company. And then, once the votes are counted, even if the workers overcome all that I just described, they don’t get a union; they get the right to sit down with the company. If the company doesn’t want to sign a contract, which in a majority of cases they don’t want to, then there is no union at that workplace.
ACUFF: The Employee Free Choice Act says that workers will be able to decide how they indicate their support or non-support of the union. They can either go through an election like is currently the case, or they can choose to indicate their support by simply signing a card or a petition, and if 50 percent plus 1 sign up in the union, it’ll be recognized.
RAYNOR: Most importantly, if no agreement is reached, then the union can go to a neutral, a judge, who hears both sides and imposes a contract. So it gives workers for the first time in the history of America the real right to a union. And, by the way, this system that the Employee Free Choice Act contemplates, which is the signing of cards till there’s a majority, is done all over the world.
ACUFF: When the Chamber of Commerce talks about a secret ballot, they’re talking about an election system run by the National Labor Relations Board, which is right: it’s full-on retaliation, intimidation, firings. You know, one in five union activists in organizing campaigns will be fired. More than 20,000 a year are retaliated against for exercising supposedly legally protected union rights. The problem with the process is it’s full of intimidation and retaliation. It bears no resemblance to our civil elections. That election takes place on the boss’s property, it takes place on the boss’s time, and it is overseen by corrupt union busters—that’s now a $4 billion industry—whose only job is to intimidate workers and keep them from supporting the union.
BASILONE: Because of the worker intimidation and the firing of organizers, since 1999, most unions in the United States have abandoned the national labor relations board election process.
RAYNOR: One of the last elections we ran in our union was Goya Foods. In 1999 in Miami, two facilities, two warehouses, truck drivers, overwhelmingly the workers wanted a union. Seventy-five percent of them signed cards. They still didn’t have a union. We petitioned the government for a vote. Goya delayed the vote, scared the workers, held meetings, threatened them, and fired four of the leaders. Still the voters voted for the union, but winning the election still didn’t mean they got a union. That was 1999. Since that time, which is now 2008, nine years later, the workers have won every Labor Board decision, every appeal; the workers have been to court, several different federal courts, have won every single case—every single judge ruled in the workers’ favor; nine years later, the workers at Goya Foods still don’t have a union. The fired workers are still fired, they’re owed money by the company, and the workers don’t have a union. The current process is a way for workers not to have a union. We want to restore workers’ right to organize. That has got to be part of the economic recovery program for the middle class in America.
ACUFF: The problem with the economy right now—and all the economists agree on this—is there’s not enough buying power in the economy to power the American economy. And the reason for that is 30 years of wage stagnation and decline, which has been caused by the abolition, the steady erosion of any effective right to organize, freedom to form unions and bargain collectively on the part of workers in America.
RAYNOR: The jobs such as manufacturing jobs that we identify as middle class jobs, they weren’t invented as middle class jobs; it was unions organizing those factories—the steel workers, the auto workers, the textile mills, the rubber plants—that converted those jobs from poor, poverty-level wages to middle class wages. So we need that same process of converting service sector jobs and low-wage jobs to middle class jobs in America, and that process is allowing workers to have the right to organizing it.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.