There's been quite a bit of talk lately about the Employee Free Choice Act--from supporters on Capitol Hill to opponents paid by corporate front groups. Take a minute to listen to workers on the front lines of the fight to restore workers' freedom to bargain for a better life.
In 2002, Consolidated Biscuit Co. fired Bill Lawhorn, of McComb, Ohio, for exercising his freedom to join a union and bargain for a better life. Despite government rulings, to this day he has not gotten his job back or received back pay. As Bill says, "The laws are set up for the employer to win. Even when he loses, he wins."
Nikkia Parish was a professional dancer with the Washington (D.C.) Ballet who was concerned about career-threatening injuries resulting from bone-crunching rehearsals and performance schedule. "To save our bodies and our careers, we sought union representation," she says. Eventually the dancers won their union and, after a year of negotiating, a canceled Nutcracker season and more than 60 hours of federal mediation, they finally got their first union contract--and a voice in the workplace. Nikkia, a vocal union supporter, was not re-engaged to dance the following season.
Araceli Romero, who works in the industrial laundry at Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, wants a union, too. "Right now, my co-workers are afraid to say anything about our problems or organizing the union since they are afraid that management will retaliate against us. When I try to talk with them about how things could get better if we stay united and organize ourselves, they say things like: 'Please, don't talk to me, the supervisor is coming,' 'Aren't you afraid?' and 'Can you guarantee me my job if I speak about the union?'"
A year ago in Oakland, Calif., Comcast fired Will Goodo. Will says he was fired for exposing Comcast's anti-worker actions when he testified before the Oakland City Council. Comcast asserts Will was fired because of a customer complaint--but the customer has denied ever having made a complaint. A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director found Comcast "apparently lied," "gave a false explanation for" and "fabricated" its reasons for investigating Will--but denied Will was fired for union activity.
Ivo Camilo, a 35-year employee of Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento, Calif., was fired for supporting a union--but he says he would do it all over again. "I would join the organizing committee, attend meetings and speak with my co-workers about the need for health coverage, better wages and better conditions at work. I learned that I deserve respect and recognition for my work. I learned that I believe in justice and in equality. And that as a member of this community, I matter, my family, and my co-workers matter as well."
Management told Teresa Joyce and her co-workers at Cingular Wireless in Lebanon, Va.: "The decision to join the union is up to you. We will respect your decision, whatever it is." Responsible companies like Cingular respect workers' freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life. It's a good business decision because it reduces conflict and disruptions.
Add your voice to the growing chorus of support for the Employee Free Choice Act. Contact Congress today.
This column also appears at www.aflcio.org.