Back in March I penned a piece titled "Unions present best path back to prosperity" (Financial Times, 3-01-11), and followed it later with a piece titled "Note to Boeing's Jim McNerney: All we are saying is give the truth - and your union - a chance" (Huffington Post, 5-24-11).
Apparently, the folks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the CEOs at the Business Roundtable didn't read them, because each pro-big business organization is today pulling out all the stops to defeat a proposed rule change by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would do nothing more than:
1. Establish a fixed time -- 7 days after the employer is served with notice, absent special circumstances -- for the pre-election hearing process.
2. Require parties to identify areas of genuine dispute before presenting evidence on them at the hearing.
3. Hear appeals only after an election and limit the Board's appellate review to circumstances where there are compelling grounds for review.
4. Require that corporations produce the telephone numbers and email addresses of its employees, as well as work locations, shifts and job classifications.
5. Allow for electronic communication.
Throughout my long business career as a Fortune 500 company CEO and otherwise, I have held myself to the maxim that when American workers compete on level-playing fields, they and the companies they work for thrive -- and the nation prospers, as it did for a full century before unbridled and unfair globalization began to run amok.
Now, however, workers everywhere are competing against a combination of illegal foreign subsidies, currency manipulation and shameful environmental practices that swamps any measure of true and fair comparative advantage. No worker should ever have to work without organizing protections, but especially now. And anyone who denies this denies the iron fists of management across the industrial bargaining table and, with state and local budgets across the country in grave distress, the no less formidable fist of government across the public-sector collective bargaining table.
Today, with real unemployment at 18%, which is more than twice the misleading official rate, the U.S. needs more, not fewer, union members, because unions represent the best path back to fair dealing. Without union voices, workers have little or no say in their future, as, on the one hand, multinational corporations each day challenge workers' immobility with their own almost complete capital and technology mobility; and, on the other hand, state houses and city councils hide behind nearly impenetrable bureaucracies.
Expanding, not shrinking, union membership will be one of the surest signposts on the road back to income equality and fairness in employment in America. The proposed rule change of the NLRB is not an option; rather it is an imperative to this outcome. And any corporate CEO who says otherwise is denying his concurrent, equal responsibility to shareholders, employees and the nation.
Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband. He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.
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