Despite rising unemployment and a cratering economy, the GOP has placed a hold on the nomination of President Obama's choice for Secretary of Labor, the pro-worker Hilda Solis. The issue at stake is the Employee Free Choice Act, which aims to give workers a level playing field by allowing workers to choose a majority sign-up approach, dubbed "card check" by anti-union flacks, for selecting a union -- rather than keeping that option in the hands of employers.
But the original Wagner Act in the 1930s gave workers the right to use a majority sign-up process if they so choose, rather than the current election system that allows widespread intimidation by employers.
Studies of hundreds of organizing campaigns have found that a fifth of all pro-union activists are fired during a campaign, half of all employers threaten to shut down their plant and roughly 80% of employers hire unionbusting consultants. Employers are still free under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act to hold intimidating one-on-one "sweat" sessions to legally discourage workers from joining a union. And, as I found out while going undercover to a unionbusting seminar, it's equally legal for employers to just lie about the dire consequences facing workers if they join a union, from closed plants to somehow losing seniority and benefits. That's the system the Employee Free Choice Act was designed to reform, by increasing penalties for corporate lawbreaking, allowing employees to choose the majority sign-up approach but still retaining the employees' rights to hold a secret-ballot NLRB election if they want.
As part of a low-keyed effort to push Solis's nomination forward (she's still likely to be selected, after all) some union activists have put together a Facebook page to express support for her, along with contact information on reaching your Senators to give your views on her nomination:
"Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor"
We support a swift Senate confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor.
The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster and promote the welfare of U.S. employees and retirees by improving their working conditions and protecting their benefits, helping employers find workers and strengthening free collective bargaining.
We believe Hilda Solis is the best choice to lead and inspire the 16,600 Department of Labor employees in support of the rights of working Americans.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held its first confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor-Designate Hilda Solis on January 9, 2009. Go to the link below to view the question and answer portion of the hearing.
Comments appreciated. Calls, e-mails, and letters to your U.S. Senators would be even better. Join "Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor" on Facebook and post statements of support.
To find up to date contact information for your U.S. Senators and other elected officials go to:
Another Facebook group supporting Solis is:
"1,000,000 Strong For Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor":
Here's the Website
The GOP's opposition to Solis is aided by right-wing and mainstream media outlets echoing the business groups' talking points and lies. You can read more about the media spin in an In These Times article here. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake and Media Matters have been especially vigorous in their coverage, but no one matches Hamsher's much-needed bite in skewering reporters' mindless repetition of the Big Lies of conservatives. Some of their whoppers, backed with $200 million worth of paid ads and lobbying: The Employee Free Choice Act takes away the secret ballot, names of those who signed cards authorizing a union are shown to employers and posted in the workplace (they're held confidentially by the National Labor Relations Board representative), unions weaken the economy in a time of peril, ad nauseum. (Here are the facts about the legislation the anti-union PR blitz seeks to override.)
Today, she takes on W. James Antle III of the of The American Spectator, starting by debunking his use of bogus anti-union polling she quotes:
"Three out of four voters (74%) oppose the "The Employee Free Choice Act". Union households also strongly oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, 74% oppose to only 20% support.
"When given a more detailed description of the Employee Free Choice Act, nearly 9 out of 10 voters, 86%, feel the process should remain private and only 8% feel it should be public information. Again, even union workers feel strongly that the process should be kept private, as 88% said private and only 8% said public."
We strive for a bit more intellectual rigor around here, so let's look into what Republican pollsters McLaughlin & Associates consider "a more detailed description" of the Employee Free Choice Act. [The Atlantic's Marc] Ambinder:
"Pollster John McLaughlin, working for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace,the question this way: There is a bill in Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act which would effectively replace a federally supervised secret ballot election with a process that requires a majority of workers to simply sign a card to authorize organizing a union and the workers' signatures would be made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Do you support or oppose Congress passing this legislation."
"Worker's signatures would be made public to their employer, their union organizers and their co-workers." Yes, one can see where that might make union members uncomfortable. Who would guess that it's a zombie lie?
Even so, the right wing and the GOP have launched a high-profile smear campaign claiming, falsely, that the bill takes away the right to a secret ballot. Based on that lie, GOP leaders , with the help of an anonymous Republican Senator who has put a hold on Solis's nomination, are trying to force the Obama administration and any wavering Democratic Senators into backing away from the Employee Free Choice Act. But the Obama administration and leaders in Congress still support the legislation, even if they're not launching a full-court press to push the bill right now, because the economic recovery package is the top priority.
For now, GOP leaders -- just as with their unionbusting opposition to the auto bailout -- appear to be willing to play "chicken" with the nation's troubled economy by holding up the vote on the Labor Secretary, a key player in the Obama administration's economic recovery team. Stewart Acuff, the special assistant to the AFL-CIO president, bluntly condemns the risky tactic -- and points out its dangers to the GOP itself: " It's a bogus issue for them to use to hold up a Latino woman from a working-class background who understands the labor movement from the ground up and is a strong proponent of workers' rights. It's ridiculous and ultimately damaging to their party."
On top of that, with Obama enjoying nearly 80 percent public support, their obstructionist tactics over Solis throw a roadblock into Obama's plans for an economic recovery, with the Labor Department playing a key role in everything from jobs retraining to stopping wage theft to extending unemployment benefits. And the Employee Free Choice Act, as a new report from American Rights at Work Points out, is an essential part of making any economic recovery plan work. As underscored by the AFL-CIO NOW blog:
Restoring the right to form unions is a key part of an economic strategy to bring shared and sustainable prosperity to the middle class, creating the workforce needed for future economic growth, and ensuring workers have a role in crafting future policies that represent their interests.
The report, drawing on work by policy experts and journalists around the country, links the current economic crisis to a lack of bargaining power in the hands of workers--a problem due in large part to the fact that forming a union has become "a risk, not a right." Workers who try to form unions are routinely harassed, intimidated or fired with little to no legal recourse--denying them the bargaining power they need to improve their wages, benefits and economic security.
"A majority of employers aggressively use both legal and illegal anti-union tactics during union representation elections, which impedes workers' ability to form unions...
If given a free and fair chance, it's likely that many more employees would choose union representation. With expanded collective bargaining power, more workers would move into the middle class, stimulating economic growth and leading to more shared prosperity. "
Given all that, and the perilous state of the economy, it's particularly galling to union supporters that the GOP is using her unwillingness to spell out in detail her views of the Employee Free Choice Act she co-sponsored in Congress as an excuse to block her nomination -- and hold back an economic recovery:
The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, has been pressing for more detailed responses to questions posed on several issues, including the Employee Free Choice Act or card check bill.
The legislation would allow workers to organize simply by handing in enough cards expressing their preference. Under card check, union membership rose steadily in the past century until 1947, when Congress, under pressure from business, began requiring secret ballot elections. Unions claim the election campaigns allow management to dissuade workers with threats. Businesses argue that card check allows unions to pressure workers unduly to organize.
When asked Thursday whether he was satisfied with the answers Solis has given, Enzi said: "What answers?"
"She doesn't even recognize her own record when giving the answers," Enzi said. "Right now there are people who don't want her out of committee. It's not just me."
But while such right-wing spin is just part of a stalling tactic that will ultimately backfire, it's another sign of the importance of the grass-roots lobbying and activism needed to ensure that the President's labor agenda -- and his Secretary of Labor -- gets a fair chance in Congress.
UPDATE: An effective recent video from SEIU -- made before Obama assumed power -- underscores that key members of Obama's administration, including President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, Tom Daschle and, yes, Hilda Solis all support the Employee Free Choice Act and the right to organize a union: