"Why do workers form and join unions?" That was a question George Meyers liked to ask union reps and workers as he traveled around the country talking up the labor movement.
George was the Labor Secretary for the Communist Party. He was a retired textile worker from a southern state. He had developed brown lung from all the years on the job, but after he retired he dedicated the rest of his years fighting for the rights of workers. A few years ago the disease took him from us.
His answer to the question was a few simple words that spoke volumes. "Workers form and join unions because the have to. They have no choice."
I thought about that answer while reading about corporate and Republican Party resistance to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that awaits passage in Congress. That's the one that will give workers the right to decide for themselves how, when, where and if they join a union without company interference.
George would have gotten a good chuckle out of seeing his word used in the title of this landmark piece of legislation. I can almost hear him saying, "You see, the bosses understand that workers have no choice but to join a union if they want higher wages, medical insurance, overtime pay, paid holidays and vacations, job security, safe working conditions, respect and everything else they earn. They prefer having the worker come to them, hat in hand and alone to negotiate for these things. That's why they are going to fight so hard to block passage of this bill."
He would've been right. Late last week the newspapers wrote about an alternative proposal being made by three large companies: Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco. These three, the reports pointed out, have a reputation as progressive companies. I guess that means we are supposed to feel warm and fuzzy all over when we hear their names. It also means the bosses and their allies are clever enough not to start the war by sending out rabidly anti-union companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot to lead the charge.
However, progressive reps and warm, fuzzy feelings aside, a reading of the alternative proposal coming from this modern day "Spirit of '76" trio unequivocally places them in the "profit before people" camp.
-give management the right to demand secret ballot
-no binding arbitration
-tough penalties for union violations (undefined)
-language to make it easier for companies to set up elections to decertify union shops
If this is what "people-friendly" progressive companies like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Costco believe is good for their employees then we had better be ready for the battle royal that is coming.
Working people need EFCA!