The time is now for workers to voice their concerns and relay the message that we are serious. Labor has plenty of catching up to do after eight years of anti-worker and anti-union policies under the Bush administration. It's almost overwhelming. However, in no certain terms should the fact that the Obama administration has assumed office lead us to believe things are going to be okay any time soon.
Let's review for a second. Under Bush, millions of newly defined "supervisory" workers lost their legal right to receive overtime pay; employers openly fired and intimidated workers trying to organize collectively; prevailing wage laws were rescinded; and millions of other workers lost their status as covered "employees" (temporary and disabled workers) under labor law cases as decided by the National Labor Relations Board.
Agencies established to assist and protect workers had their funding slashed and personnel cut (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Mining and Health Administration and the Department of Labor); factory closings continued as trade agreements expanded and outsourcing flourished; millions went without or lost health care; and pensions and retirement funds vanished. The list can go on for a few more pages, but I'll stop.
"Without safeguards and standards in place to protect workers (along with the environment) here and abroad, we are headed toward a point of no return."
The first major push for change under Obama and Congress is passing the Employee Free Choice Act. This amendment to the National Labor Relations Act will allow workers to have a secret ballot election, as in the past, or utilize a new 50-percent-plus-one "card check" recognition process when trying to organize a union. Unlike the lies national business organizations are spewing, workers' rights to a secret-ballot election are not being eliminated. They are actually expanding with another choice being offered.
Additionally, new penalties for breaking the law will be enforced and contract agreements will no longer take years, if ever, to settle. After years of allowing free reign for employers to do as they pleased and without fear of consequence, employers are terrified their ability to intimidate, threaten and fire workers on their terms will soon be lost. Nevertheless, there is a lot of work ahead of us if this new law ever takes effect.
Pursuing a new mandate for universal health care coverage is a priority for the millions of workers who no longer have access or the ability to obtain coverage. Representative John Conyers of Michigan introduced H.R. 676 and has the support of many workers and unions. Unfortunately, some unions have already decided to bow out of the fight and are willing to accept a compromise that keeps the profit motive and private insurance companies in the system.
Labor needs to continue the fight against job loss with a review of our national trade policies in order to combat the loss of our manufacturing base. Without safeguards and standards in place to protect workers (along with the environment) here and abroad, we are headed toward a point of no return.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) introduced The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act in 2008. The new policy would prohibit "fast-track" adoption, review current trade policies and allow workers better opportunities to compete in the global market.
"The first major push for change under Obama and Congress is passing the Employee Free Choice Act."
Working with the Obama administration is a good starting point, but numerous battles lie ahead if workers are ever going to reclaim their position in the middle class. To be successful, it's going to take a voice from everyone, not just those in labor unions. Like it or not, we are in this fight together.
Help us to help yourself. Voice your opinion and get active! The Little 500 is a big weekend in Bloomington, but if you are interested in spending an hour in solidarity with fellow workers, come out to the Monroe County Courthouse on Saturday, April 25.
Starting at 11 a.m., IBEW Local 725, CWA 4730, the White River Central Labor Council and the South Central Indiana Jobs with Justice Chapter will be sponsoring an hour-long rally for labor featuring the president of the Indiana AFL-CIO, Ken Zeller, local labor representatives, Milton Fisk from Hoosiers For A Common Sense Health Plan, and many others. Topical information, petitions, music, and camaraderie will be available.
Hope to see you there! In Solidarity.
Tom Szymanski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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