The way Big Business leaders and GOP allies like Newt Gingrich tell it, the Employee Free Choice Act is an evil plot to destroy the economy and take away workers' rights to a secret ballot. It's painted as the equivalent of a "nuclear war" that will lead to the "demise of a civilization."
But a new report released by the Center for Economic Policy and Research Wednesday shows just why the bill is needed: the chances are that nearly one in five union activists during an organizing campaign will be fired -- and 20 of union activistsone in four that a worker seeking to organize a union will get fired.
"Aggressive actions by employers -- often including illegal firings -- have significantly undermined the ability of U.S. workers to unionize their workplaces," said John Schmitt, CEPR senior economist and lead author of the paper.
It's little wonder, then, that big business lobbies and front groups, along with their GOP mouthpieces, have pulled out all the rhetorical stops in their nearly $200 million campaign against the legislation that would help prevent and punish such abuses. All this firepower has been unleashed no matter how much the lack of union representation lowers wages and consumer demand in a struggling economy.
To lampoon the tone of this relentless conservative assault, SEIU has put together a scathing video montage, mixed with real audio from right-wing alarmists like Home Depot's Bernie Marcus, of the "scary movie" approach those opposing union rights have taken:
Yet despite all the scare-mongering, union strategists are growing increasingly confident that they'll be able to hold on to the few past supporters of the legislation, including Arkansas' Democratic Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, who are considered wavering. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, the AFL-CIO's legislative director, Bill Samuels, buoyed by the latest support for the bill this week by the President, expressed confidence that unions would hold on to moderate Southern Democrats and such Northeast Republicans as Arlen Specter. And, he pointed out, the likely addition of Al Franken in Minnesota makes it especially likely they can count on winning a cloture vote against any filibuster:
"There are some members who prefer to sort of stay behind the curtain, as it were, until the vote is closer," Samuel told reporters. "I'm not surprised there are some signals being sent that might sound confusing, but we're very confident."
Samuel said he expects the long-anticipated bill to be introduced "in days or weeks" and a vote as early as sometime this spring...
Anti-card check forces have been leaning on potential vote-switchers, including Specter, and several Democrats, including Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor...
Asked specifically about Lincoln, Pryor and Landrieu, Samuel said he is confident all three would vote to end a filibuster on the bill.
What unions are counting on is an unprecedented grass-roots campaign that's involving millions of union members in the two largest organizations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win (including SEIU). In Arkansas, for instance, the AFL-CIO's Secretary-Treasurer, Rick Belk, says, "Big Business and corporations in Arkansas have a big stake in this because it's all about them losing power, and they're going to work very hard. But so are workers and those struggling for a better way of life, and at the end of the day, truth and good will prevail." He's helped mobilize hand-written letter-writing campaigns, meetings with legislators, phone calls and other initiatives -- soon to be joined by alliances with community, religious and progressive groups -- conveying the message to the
Arkansas delegation that the law is necessary for "bettering the lives of workers."
That sort of grass-roots campaign, joined by a national progressive mobilization that already produced over 1.5 million signatures in favor of the bill presented at a Capitol Hill rally last month, makes victory possible, even likely. It's what the union movement is counting on to help overcome the huge advantage in paid broadcast media by corporations gunning for the legislation. And Newt Gingrich and his corporate paymasters at American Solutions are hoping to create their own "astro-turf" campaign of anti-union supporters with misleading emails to a mailing list of more than a million conservatives:
In a closed-door meeting Tuesday, President Obama told over 100 top union officials that "we will pass the Employee Free Choice Act."
It's now clear that President Obama, Big Labor, and their left-wing allies in Congress, will attempt an unprecedented power grab that is a mortal threat to our economy and our democratic values.
This is being done in a stealth manner because its backers know that this bill will not pass if the American people understand its destructive nature.
To expose and stop this effort, I've joined American Solutions as National Chairman of our "Freedom Not Fear" campaign, and you can join us by signing our petition here.
When Gingrich talks about "Freedom Not Fear," he's adopting the Orwellian strategy perfectly, turning inside-out the reason workers are seeking this bill to be passed: freedom from the well-documented fear of illegal firing and intimidation against forming a union. It's gotten so bad that even the Bush labor board cited businesses nearly 30,000 times a year for illegal, unfair labor practices.
The Real Workplace Fears Gingrich Ignores: Threats, Machetes and Illegal Firings
Somehow, Gingrich and his cohorts don't seem too worried about the fear I discovered interviewing workers as a reporter in South Florida, in an area so rife with abuses it was cited by a Human Rights Watch report. I visited a small door-manufacturing facility a while ago where the employer actually unleashed dogs on his own Hispanic employees when they wanted to form a union. Nor is Gingrich worried about the fear expressed by workers at car washes this year in Los Angles; the owners were charged with 176 criminal counts by the City Attorney for threatening and abusing workers who wanted to form a union, while stealing thousands in owed waged from workers.
One manager even allegedly unveiled a machete to warn an uppity worker about trying to form a union. Israel Jiminez said, through a translator, "When the manager showed me his machete, he said that he kept it, and other weapons, in his car for whatever might come up at the car wash. He has told me when he pulls out his gun, he uses it to kill. This made me afraid for myself and my co-workers who are trying to improve the conditions at this carwash."
And with at least 25% of all companies firing at least one worker during an organizing campaign, there is real fear in workplaces, but not from the myth that the secret ballot will be taken away from them -- which the proposed bill doesn't touch.
Ultimately, union officials in Arkansas and elsewhere are counting on their Senators to listen to people like Communications Workers of America member Regina Stewart, who had to sacrifice health care for her child at her last non-union job, and found in her new union job what it meant finally to be treated with some respect and dignity. As she showed at a recent rally for the Employee Free Choice Act inside an echo-laden state capitol building, progressives are counting on voices like hers to be heard loud and clear through the artificial media din generated by Washington-based fear-mongers like Newt Gingrich: