Yesterday, an Art Pope funded corporate shill group called Americans for Prosperity, that once claimed raising the minimum wage would actually hurt American workers, gave Richard Burr, a man who has made a career out of shortchanging American workers, an award “In Defense of the American Worker.”
Just typing that sentence almost made my head explode. But it gets worse.
Sen. Burr accepted this ridiculous honor at an event in downtown Raleigh, not because he ever lifted a finger for working people (no, no that would be too easy to debunk), but in recognition of his zealous opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, big-business, the GOP and the Art Pope puppet project are gearing up for the fight of a lifetime over this once obscure revision to federal labor law that is quickly becoming the newest GOP wedge issue.
The intricacies of federal labor law that regulate union organizing is about as esoteric a topic as any. In one of the least unionized states in the nation, big-business and the GOP are taking plays straight out of the old Karl Rove playbook by focusing on a little-known aspect of federal labor law and distorting it to the point where it appears as if this common-sense correction to a badly broken federal law is somehow an attack on our American way of life. (Anybody remember the "voter fraud" hysteria?)
As insane as it is to give Senator Burr an award in “Defense of the American Worker”, the rhetorical justification for these group’s anti-union efforts is even more outlandish. Americans for Prosperity kicked off their disingenuously titled “Save Our Ballot Tour” by attempting to frame their opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act as a civil rights issue. AFP even went so far as to schedule their first event at the Greensboro Historical Museum, calling the venue “a special place in our nation’s struggle for civil rights and equality.”
The NAACP quickly denounced AFP for their shameless attempt to co-opt our state’s rich civil rights history in order to advance their mission to suppress workers' rights to form a union, free of intimidation. Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP said:
The agents of the large corporations behind this phony group have, we believe, underestimated the North Carolina media and North Carolina people, thinking we are so uninformed we will fall for this sophomoric manipulation of treasured symbols and words in our rich North Carolina civil rights history.
In response to AFP’s award, the NAACP, civil rights leaders, clergy and union leaders held a press conference on Monday to award Sen. Burr their Hypocrisy Award in recognition of “Senator Burr’s consistent opposition to policies that would help working families while simultaneously selling himself as a defender of the American worker.”
Aside from the ludicrous nature of AFP’s claim on the legacy of Greensboro’s civil rights movement, the group’s primary rationale for opposing the Employee Free Choice Act is patently false.
The claim that “the secret ballot” is somehow in jeopardy is a lie. Let me be very clear about this: The Employee Free Choice Act in no way takes away a worker’s right to a secret ballot election. If you read the bill, which obviously Senator Burr has not, you’ll see that. Senator Burr, the GOP and big-business lobbyists have no honest objections to this legislation except that they don’t like unions. The Employee Free Choice Act would correct their systematic and decades-long manipulation of labor law to disadvantage workers and bust unions. They know that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the chance and the only thing stopping them is a broken labor law system that encourages companies to illegally fire and harass pro-union workers and has been manipulated to disadvantage unions at every turn.
Big-business and the GOP are ruthlessly exploiting the badly broken law system that regulates union organizing and the public’s lack of understanding about unions in general to scare and intimidate the public and Senator Hagan in to believing something that is total lie.
Without getting into the minutia of federal labor law, I’d like to leave us with a quick description of what the Employee Free Choice is all about. I would be happy to talk about this very important and increasingly hot-button issue in more detail if you’d like. I’m also interested in opening up the conversation to the role of unions in general and more specifically the role they have played and will play in contributing to a stronger, more progressive, egalitarian and prosperous America.
William Haywood Carey
Full Disclosure: I'm an organizer here in North Carolina for Change to Win currently working with a broad coalition of labor and non-union organizations including American Rights at Work, the AFL-CIO, NAACP, and Americans United for Change to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. I'm also working with labor unions to partner with other like minded groups to help build an effective and sustainable progressive infrastructure in North Carolina. You can reach me at willie [dot] carey [at] changetowin [dot] org
The Employee Free Choice Act does 3 simple things:
#1) The Employee Free Choice Act DOES NOT PROHIBIT A SECRET BALLOT ELECTION. The legislation would allow workers to decide if and how they should join a union through either a majority sign-up process or a secret ballot election.
Under current law, companies dictate the process workers must use to decide on unionization. The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers, rather than the company, the power to decide. If workers want an election, they get one. If workers want to sign cards in order to achieve majority sign-up, then it’s their choice. The purpose of this legislation is to give workers the choice about how to form a union instead of the company. It's their union after all. Majority sign-up (card-check) and secret ballot elections are both legally used today as methods for unionization and both will be in use when the Employee Free Choice Act is passed.
#2) The Employee Free Choice Act requires that unions and management secure a first contract within a reasonable amount of time.
Today, it is common practice for union-busting consultants to advise management to prolong the first contract bargaining process almost indefinitely in order to make workers think that their newly formed union is powerless.
#3) Most importantly, the Employee Free Choice Act raises the penalties for employers who illegally fire and intimidate pro-union employees.
In 25% of union organizing drives, companies illegally fire pro-union workers. Today’s paltry fines levied against companies that illegally fire pro-union workers are viewed as just another cost of doing business. For dishonest employers, the penalties are a BARGAIN compared with having a strong union voice in the workplace.