Did Dems drop labor’s number one priority?

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Six ‘blue dog’ democrats drop vital support for ‘card check’

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Story Transcript

JESSE FREESTON, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to Real News Network. I’m Jesse Freeston, coming to you from our DC studios. And today we’re talking about the Employee Free Choice Act. If you’re reading the newspapers, you’ll hear the death knell of the card-check provision in the Employee Free Choice Act. And this provision was put forward by many of the labor leaders in the United States as the most important piece of the most important plan for Obama’s presidency. And today to talk about this we’re joined by Sereta Gupta, who’s the executive director of Jobs With Justice, a nationwide organization which seeks to organize communities around labor issues involving churches, faith leaders, and other community celebrities, if you will, in that act. And so, Sarita, welcome to The Real News.

SARITA GUPTA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, JOBS WITH JUSTICE: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

FREESTON: So, tell me, are we right if we’re reading the papers and hearing that the card check is gone? We see six senators from the Democratic Party have dropped the idea or suggested a compromise bill, which would include some different provisions instead of the card check. Could you tell us a little bit about where that’s at?

GUPTA: I would not say it’s completely off the table yet. What I would say is that ultimately what the labor movement wants and what we want is that we come up with a process and a system that makes it easier for workers to form a union in this country. And although card check, or majority sign-up, is a really important provision, so is ensuring that an actual contract is gained, and so is making sure that employers are actually, you know, held accountable for the ways in which they’re breaking the law, which means we need stronger penalties. All three of those provisions are incredibly important in this act, and it will ultimately, you know, make it easier for workers to form a union in this country. So I think I would not say majority sign-up is completely off the table. Lots of compromises happening. But, again, I want to remind us that we’re really clear about why the Employee Free Choice Act was drafted the way it was, which goes back to what’s not worked under current law.

FREESTON: So, specifically about the card check, because that was—and the various labor leaders that we interviewed, both before and after the election, this was the feature that they focused on, and no doubt there’s other things involved. However, could you just remind us briefly about what is the rationale behind the card check?

GUPTA: Sure. So card check or, like I said, it’s called majority sign-up, basically ensures that in a workplace, if there’s a majority of workers—70 percent, 80 percent of workers—say they do want to form a union, they are able to in fact have cards signed and be able to go to the employer and say, "We have a majority of workers in our worksite who want the union, so recognize the union." Under the current law what happens is the employer gets to decide whether or not they recognize the cards or whether or not they forced the workers to go through an election process. And what we’re arguing within the Employee Free Choice Act is that decision should actually be the decision of workers, not the decision of the employer, of how they form their union, how they make the decision to have a union in their worksite.

FREESTON: But most people associate democracy with secret ballot elections. So what exactly is undemocratic about secret ballot elections?

GUPTA: There is nothing undemocratic about secret ballot elections. But what folks aren’t understanding is that there is an incredible intimidation campaign that’s waged by the employers the minute the decision gets made to use the route of an election. Under the current law, the way it works is it could be six to eight weeks or longer before an actual election takes place, which means that employers have, you know, six to eight weeks to intimidate, harass workers, and convince them that this is a bad idea for them, and make it really difficult for workers to ultimately vote to actually have a union in their worksite. And as Jobs With Justice, we were formed, actually, over 20 years ago for this reason, because what we’ve seen happen in election cases is the employer and the workers end up—you know, the employer ends up intimidating the workers. And as Jobs With Justice, we’ve had to come and shine the light on this and bring broader community support to ensure that the sort of anti-union campaign that employers wage are not in fact—you know, that they’re being watched, that they’re being held accountable.

FREESTON: But, as I said, it doesn’t look good, Barack Obama championing the Employee Free Choice Act throughout the election process.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: —time we had a president who honors organized labor, who’s walked on picket lines, who doesn’t choke on the word "union", who lets our unions do what they do best and organize our workers, and who will finally make the Employee Free Choice Act the law of the land.

FREESTON: And now we see a filibuster-proof Democratic Party moving away from the card check provision. And during the election campaign, we saw great mobilization of workers. I mean, we’re sitting in front of a massive rally in front of the Capitol building. And yet, as this news has come over the past week, there hasn’t been a visible labor presence, at least here in DC. Is that accurate?

GUPTA: I wouldn’t say that’s accurate. I think locally, in targeted states and communities, people are continuing to mobilize and rally on this. I think we’ve realized that we need to do the big rallies, we need to do the big mobilizations to make the point that the Employee Free Choice Act is really necessary, and to make the point to lawmakers that they need to pass labor law reform this year.

FREESTON: For example, in some of the leadership [inaudible] SEIU, people who have been rationalizing to their rank-and-file for the past year or more about the Employee Free Choice Act and about the majority sign-up card check provision, not aggressively coming out and asking of the rank-and-file to get out, to get out in the street. There hasn’t been a call-out like that. It seems like there’s kind of a divide here. And certainly, if you look at the history of labor legislation and how it’s been passed, it’s been passed through strike action and through massive mobilization. And we’re just not seeing that call-out. It seems to be this call from the leadership to put faith in us, to trust us—you know, we have good contacts down on Capitol Hill and a president on our side. But are they wrong in that approach?

GUPTA: Well, I would disagree that that’s the approach they’re taking, actually. What I would say is they’re doing targeted mobilizations and actions in really key states where it matters right now. And the reason for that is because they’re trying to be really strategic and thoughtful about where and how they’re engaging the rank-and-file. You need members, where and how they are demonstrating the maximum power right now, to really let, again, policymakers know, especially those who are wavering, to know that they need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and it’s going to matter in their locals, in their states, right? And, in fact, there are many local unions who are engaging their, you know, rank-and-file members and getting involved in local mobilizations demonstrating who our opposition is. Just a few weeks ago, Jobs With Justice, working with unions, we organized mobilizations in 16 cities around the US Chamber of Commerce to make the point that the US Chamber of Commerce is who’s opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act. Let’s not kid ourselves about who our opposition is.

FREESTON: And the US Chamber of Commerce, I just want to point out, has spent millions of dollars on ad campaigns.

GUPTA: Millions and millions of dollars. And so this goes back to the whole point about, you know, labor leaders coming out so strongly around majority sign-up is largely because we knew this was going to be the first phase of the anti-Employee Free Choice Act campaign, that big business was going to oppose card check. We also know they’re going to oppose the provisions around making sure that there’s actual collective bargaining agreement that’s, you know, gained through this process. We already see that happening. It’s already in the news. They’re already talking about government interference. Right? So let’s not kid ourselves that at the end of the day it is not in the interest of big business to see the Employee Free Choice Act passed. And so it’s, again, on us, through the work we’re doing with unions, right, unions leading this process, to make sure that we are in fact mobilizing our bases, which again is happening in targeted places.

FREESTON: So one argument that we’ve seen from places like The Wall Street Journal and other editorial pages with a lot of distribution in the United States is that the unionized workforces, the unionized industries in the United States, have been the ones hit hardest by this economic crisis and have seen the greatest job losses. Their argument is that these—like, we’re talking about auto, steel, places like this—is that they’ve been made uncompetitive globally because of the union gains, and so this is no time to be putting in legislation that makes the US workforce more unionized and less competitive globally.

GUPTA: I would argue we’re in the midst of a huge economic crisis, and if anything we need to make sure that real money is getting in the hands of working people to be able to jumpstart local economies and our national economy and our global economy, ’cause let’s not forget this is a global economic crisis. Workers are suffering around the world right now. And so we believe now is actually the time to make the Employee Free Choice Act happen, because it ensures that real money is getting into the hands of workers, ’cause, again, part of winning a collective bargaining agreement is ensuring fair salaries, good salaries, good benefits, so that workers can support themselves and their families.

FREESTON: But they would argue that those good salaries and those benefits and things like that would make the product that those workers are making cost-prohibitive to buyers around the world. And so it’d be great for everyone to get a great job, but there won’t be any job because the product just won’t be marketable at that price.

GUPTA: There’s other ways to cut costs. It shouldn’t always be on the backs of workers. And that’s exactly what we see happening in this economic crisis right now, that the decisions that CEOs are making and board of directors are making is to actually cut the costs on workers versus cutting the costs of their own CEOs’ salaries, their own board of directors’ salaries, their own other realms of their budgets. And so, at this point, you know, I think if we keep using the argument that all the cuts need to be done on the backs of workers globally, then what are we talking about? Absolutely no labor provisions around the world, which doesn’t make any sense if we’re talking about workers and families being able to support themselves, in whichever country that they’re in, to actually take part in the very economy, to have the economy be alive. So, again, I go back to we have to be clear about the agenda of big business here and that they have choices and decisions, and they’re making choices that are really about cutting the salaries of workers.

FREESTON: Thank you very much for your time.

GUPTA: Sure.

FREESTON: And we’re going to stay on top of the Employee Free Choice Act on here at The Real News and be keeping a watch on the card check majority sign-up provision. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.