The union movement shows more of its clout this week when thousands of supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act are scheduled to rally on Capitol Hill today to deliver 1.5 million signatures in support of the bill. Even so, unions face a tough, but winnable battle ahead in Congress countering $200 million in corporate smear ads and intensive lobbying based on the falsehood that the bill would take away the secret ballot.
While businesses see the bill as a threat to their drive to keep workers' wages low and weaken their clout in the workplace, workers like Theresa Gares, a school bus driver for Durham School Services in New Jersey, have been fired trying to organize a union. In seeking to join a union, Gares and her co-workers wanted to improve their minimal job benefits. They currently have no sick leave or vacation time. Their health benefits cost between $200 and $500 per month for family coverage, but because their employer classifies them as part-time workers, they only have partial benefits--and that means their coverage is so limited, there is no deductible above which insurance will cover. Despite paying hundreds of dollars a month for coverage, the workers are often left with large medical bills. In short, Gares says she sought a union because "maybe we can have something better."
Gares is in the process of filing unfair labor practice charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, challenging her termination as illegal. But in the meantime, she has to figure out how to live with no income and no health benefits. Despite, the setbacks, she is determined to fight on.
"These big companies need to stop walking over all of us little people," Gares says.
That's why workers are coming to Capitol Hill tomorrow to ask for their rights to be protected.
The AFL-CIO NOW blog reports on Wednesday's rally:
The union movement's Million Member Mobilization has been a great success, collecting 1.5 million signatures and showing broad public support for the freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life. You can see some of the cards representing the broad coalition of union members and nonunion members here. (To add your name to the petition to support Employee Free Choice, click here.)
The fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act kicks off with a rally at 12:30 p.m. in the upper Senate park outside the U.S. Capitol. Workers from across the nation who were intimidated and harassed during their attempt to form a union will speak about what's wrong with our current system and why the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary to help fix it. These workers are just a few of the thousands of workers who are coerced or even terminated every year for trying to exercise their basic freedom to form a union and bargain.
In addition to workers who have faced corporate coercion in their attempt to form a union, the rally will feature Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), two sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act. United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard also will speak. After the rally, workers will visit their members of Congress to speak directly about the importance of fixing our broken system and restoring the freedom to form unions. The voices of ordinary workers are essential to counterbalance the multimillion dollar disinformation campaign coming from corporations and their shady front groups.
The rally's drawing support from across the union spectrum, including SEIU. What makes the rally important is the addition of workers' voices to the tough legislative battle between business and unions over the bill:
Workers from across the nation will tell their personal stories about what's wrong with our current system and why the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary to help fix it. One of the workers who will speak at the rally is Theo Jackson , who worked as a case manager at a substance abuse recovery center in Scotts Valley, CA for more than three years before being fired for trying to form a union with SEIU. Theo is just one of the thousands of ordinary workers who are harassed, threatened or terminated each year for trying to exercise their basic freedom to form a union and bargain for a better life.
This rally and the new ad campaign, though, have set of alarm bells in the business community. Take the hard-line posting on the National Association of Manufacturers' blog, Shopfloor headlined, "Card Check: A Rally and Introduction and the Big Lie Technique." As in all Rovian smear campaigns, the first step is to accuse your opponent of engaging in the low-ball tactics that you're using, in this case lying about the secret ballot. Previously, all the ad campaigns and press spint had a simple, false message -- that the bill takes away the secret ballot -- but now that the unions and a few independent reporters and bloggers have called them on that falsehood, they've switched to another meme: the Employee Free Choice Act "effectively" takes away the right to the secret ballot.
Here's the anti-worker coalition's latest spin:
We're hearing through the grapevine that the union front group, American Rights at Work, is organizing a rally at the Capitol for Wednesday to promote the anti-democratic Employee Free Choice Act. The rally could signal introduction of the bill; Rep. George Miller (D-CA) recently sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter soliciting cosponsors.
American Rights at Work launched a big ad campaign Sunday (video, newspaper) attacking employers as evil and exploitative and again using the Big Lie technique of claiming the Employee Free Choice Act doesn't eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.
In some abstract, theoretical world, maybe, but in the real world of the workplace and union organizing, of course the legislation eliminates the secret ballot. Organized labor is playing workers and the public for idiots.
The real idiots, though, are members of the media who fall for that line and parrot the claim that the bill takes away the secret ballot -- even with the new weasel word, "effectively," added to the anti-union spin. As Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake wrote back in December:
"It's salient that the major talking point of the anti-Employee Free Choice forces is a lie. We hear it over and over again, "Employee Free Choice will end the secret ballot." It's a message that has obviously been focus grouped and tests very well...it goes mostly without rebuttal and is now accepted as conventional wisdom."
But now Obama's pro-labor administration is in the White House, and the conventional wisdom is shifting again as the anti-union business lobby faces new challenges in pushing their spin against the Employee Free Choice Act. An opening salvo they'd rather not see starts with today's rally on Capitol Hill.