A Real Solution for America's Struggling Middle Class

11/03/2008 01:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Throughout this historic campaign season, the economy has without a doubt been the most dominant issue on the minds of American voters. Once the turbulent markets have subsided, we must continue to support policies that will return purchasing power to those hit hardest by our current crisis: America's middle class workers.

While bailouts, regulation and taxes have dominated much of the national discussion, there is also an intense battle being waged over a critical piece of legislation that will revitalize our struggling middle class and get our economy back on track. This battle over the Employee Free Choice Act is one that began well before our current crises, but which has gained new intensity as voters look beyond the political rhetoric and more closely examine the candidates' positions on issues affecting the middle class.

Reacting against public momentum and the real potential of a pro-worker President and majority Senate, anti-union corporations have engaged in a well-funded attack to mislead the public on the Employee Free Choice Act. While it is no secret that Senator John McCain opposes this critical bill--his opposition has become a favorite talking point in recent stump speeches--the majority of attacks from anti-union corporate interests have focused on key Senate races, the outcomes of which could decide the fate of this bill. Whether from big business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce or deceptively named corporate front groups such as the Employee Freedom Action Committee, the public has endured a heavy dose of rhetoric against any candidate who supports change to our corporate-dominated economic system. Tens of millions of dollars have poured into battleground states to protect an economic status quo that is heavily stacked against the majority of America. It's time the public gets an honest depiction of the Employee Free Choice Act and how it will benefit America during these tough economic times.

Clearly, the middle class is bearing the burden of this economy, one in turmoil from the housing and financial crises. While worker productivity increased over the last seven years, wages remained stagnant. We lost 159,000 American jobs in the month of September alone, and continue to see costs for energy, health care and food skyrocket. Even in times of record profits, corporations and their highly-paid CEOs often treat employees unfairly: cutting back hours, health benefits, and raises. And when workers try to form unions to improve their lives, they're often met with harassment and resistance from these companies. In fact, 30 percent of employers faced with an organizing effort fire workers for their support of a union.

It's no coincidence that the decline of the middle class has corresponded with a drop in union membership. Workers in unions earn 30 percent higher wages on average, and are 59 percent more likely to have employer-covered health insurance. Particularly in these tough times, workers need more opportunities to get ahead. That's why unions matter and make a difference. Increased union membership will strengthen America's middle class and re-energize our economy; we can accomplish both with the Employee Free Choice Act.

This critical legislation will give workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up, help employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable time period and create real penalties for employers who fire workers and break the law. More than anything, the Employee Free Choice Act will reform our outdated labor laws to level the playing field, allowing workers to exercise their right to form a union if they so choose. In doing so, it will build upon, as well as offer, more opportunities for America's workers to ascend into the middle class through good-paying, union jobs.

Unfortunately, while this year's Senate candidates often speak of helping the middle class, many of them join Senator McCain in strongly opposing passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and even blocked it from getting an up or down vote in the Senate last year.

Millions of Americans are indeed paying close attention to the candidates, their positions on issues, and their ability to change the current trajectory of the economy. The Employee Free Choice Act is one of the most important vehicles to address the concerns of middle class families and it deserves the support of all our political leaders.