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February 17, 2009
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Workers say economic recovery begins with reforming nation’s labor laws


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Workers say economic recovery begins with reforming nation’s labor laws

Thousands ask for fair chance to join middle class through unions at town hall rally

CHICAGO—Faced with a broken economy, thousands of working men and women called for improved federal labor laws to give them the chance to exercise their rights to bargain collectively for better pay, health care benefits, and retirement plans.

Gathered at a town hall rally, workers were joined by national labor leaders, elected officials, and grassroots community and religious groups to support the Employee Free Choice Act, federal legislation that would level the playing field for workers who want to join unions. 

The bill would stimulate economic recovery by giving workers a chance to join the middle class through union membership.  Union members on average earn 30 percent higher wages than their non-union counterparts, are 59 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage and four times more like to have pensions.

“We are facing the worst economic crisis in generations, and working men and women are bearing the brunt of it,” said Dennis Gannon, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor.  “In Chicago and across the country, people want to join unions to improve their wages, health care benefits and retirement security, but they are blocked by a broken system that puts the wishes of corporations before those of workers.”

"With stagnant wages and disappearing jobs, workers across the state of Illinois need a fair chance at improving their lives through collective bargaining," said Michael Carrigan, President of the Illinois AFL-CIO.  "We are fortunate to have the support of Illinois' Congressional Delegation who believes in rebuilding America's middle class.  And President Barack Obama has long supported this reform and has pledged to sign the bill when it reaches his desk."

Workers interested in forming a union are routinely intimidated, coerced and illegally fired by corporations trying to prevent them from bargaining collectively.

The Employee Free Choice Act would level the playing field for employees and employers by strengthening penalties for companies that illegally coerce or intimidate employees in an effort to prevent them from forming a union, bringing in a neutral third party to settle a contract when a company and a newly certified union cannot agree after three months, and putting the choice of how to form a union in the hands of workers through either majority sign-up or secret ballot election.

Under the current system, workers sign cards indicating their desire to form a union and then must wait several weeks before the NLRB election, during which time employers often wage anti-union campaigns. When workers request a union election, 91 percent of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.

“If it is up to the worker to decide to join a union, as the National Labor Relations Act is written, why do corporations and their union-busters get the opportunity to use scare tactics to prevent workers from exercising their rights?” asked Jose Hill, a technician for Comcast in Chicago and a member of IBEW Local 21. “Workers need a level playing field without having to fear for their jobs and without being forced to listen to misleading information and half-truths to create confusion.”

According to research, 25 percent of employers fire at least one pro-union worker during organizing campaigns and 78 percent of private employers require supervisors to deliver anti-union messages to the workers whose jobs and paychecks they control.

"When we first started talking about forming a union, almost everyone I work with agreed it was a good idea. We could have a voice at work," said Shirley Brown, a housekeeper at Resurrection Health Care's Westlake Hospital. "Then Resurrection unleashed an anti-union campaign that terrified many of my co-workers. They’ve even fired 10 public union supporters throughout the system. How did current labor law protect our rights? For my fired co-workers, the Labor Board did nothing."

Even when workers successfully withstand the unnecessarily long waiting period before the NLRB election, they aren’t guaranteed a first contract with their employer.  One-third of the time workers are not able to get a contract.

"Three years ago, my co-workers and I formed our union to get respect and fair treatment," said Gail Warner, who works at Heartland Human Services a not-for-profit mental-health treatment provider in Effingham, Illinois. "But Heartland management has failed to bargain in good faith. With the Employee Free Choice Act, we could use arbitration to get a fair contract. With a level playing field, we'd be back at work today, caring for patients and providing for our families."

 

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