09/14/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Restoring America's Middle Class, One Corporate Bully at a Time

On Friday, August 1, The Wall Street Journal reported that Wal-Mart
stores had held mandatory captive audience trainings to demand their
supervisors and management employees vote against Democrats because a
Democratic Congress and President would pass the Employee Free Choice
Act to allow workers - including Wal-Mart workers - to decide for
themselves whether or not to form unions and bargain collectively.

Presumably, those supervisors and managers would pass on the message to
hourly workers - a violation of federal labor law. Ironically, much of
the media was aghast at this intimidation and the blatant manipulation
of Wal-Mart employees' most basic decision in a democracy - who to
choose to represent and lead our country.

Ironically, because Wal-Mart routinely uses this kind of intimidation
and manipulation and much more hard-edged retaliation every time any one
or more of their workers thinks about or begins a discussion about
whether to form a union.

In fact, at the first hint of union activity or discussion, 15 members
of a Wal-Mart anti-union "hit" team get on a private jet in Bentonville,
AR, to fly to the store and use intimidation, threats and firings to
stop the union activity immediately.

Wal-Mart is America's best known corporate bully. They have bullied
small towns across the heartland. They've bullied small businesses,
pushing many out of business. They bully their suppliers and vendors.
They've long bullied their workers. Now they are bullying their
supervisors and managers. Most importantly and most dangerously, they
are bullying America's political system.

But they are not alone. It is now a routine and accepted practice for
America's employers and corporations to do anything to stop their
workers from freely forming unions. Firing worker leaders, threatening
to fire others, threatening to close or move worksite, changing shifts,
moving union supporters to harder jobs, cutting hours, even physical
intimidation, are now commonly used arrows in the quiver of American
companies and anti-worker consultants. And American labor law and the
federal agency designed to enforce it, the National Labor Relations
Board, are powerless to stop them.

American labor law is broken, and it is hurting workers, our economy and
our society. Wal-Mart's behavior is the best example of just how badly we need the
Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would allow workers to form
union without fear of retaliation. Alone, no worker has the power to
stand up to a massive corporate bully.

But it is not just individual workers who suffer. Our society and our
economy suffer as well.

As the economists and pundits debate whether we are technically in a
recession or just headed for one, the living standards of American
workers are dropping faster than George Bush's approval ratings.

- In 1980, the average American CEO made 40 times as much money as
the average worker. Today it is 500 times more than the average worker.

- There are 20% more Americans living in poverty today than at the
end of the last century when Bush took office.

- We have 47 million Americans without health care - more than in
1965 before we created Medicare.

And while our productivity has increased by 75% since 1973, our
wages have stagnated, flatlined, even declined.

All this tracks very closely to the 30-year corporate and government
assault on workers and their unions, collective bargaining and the
freedom of America's workers to join and form them.

So rather than just send all of us a one-time stimulus check that most
of us just passed on to the banks and credit card companies, the
Congress and the President must take serious, fundamental and real
action to strengthen the economy by restoring our right to bargain for
better wages and benefits with our employers.

The Employee Free Choice Act will do that.

The Employee Free Choice Act will do three simple and common-sensical

1. It will impose real penalties on employers who violate federal
labor law. Today there are no effective penalties.

2. Once workers form a union, it will ensure that they are able to
win a union contract by allowing them to seek neutral mediation and
arbitration if the employer refuses to bargain in good faith.

3. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow workers to join or form
a union as easily as the employer can join the Chamber of Commerce -
simply by signing a card or petition. And when 50% plus one sign up,
the union is established.

We cannot solve America's economic problems by squeezing the middle
class, forcing more and more Americans into poverty and further
weakening buying and spending power. We must empower workers to form
unions, bargain with their employers for the dignity of the middle
class, and rebuild the greatest economic engine in history, the American
labor movement and America's middle class.

Senator Barack Obama has promised to do just this.