Business Lobby Scrambling as Pro-Union Activists Rally on Hill Wednesday

Art Levine

The union movement shows more of its clout this week when thousands of supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act are scheduled to rally on Capitol Hill Wednesday to deliver 1.5 million signatures in support of the bill. Even so, unions face a tough, but winnable battle ahead in Congress countering $200 million in corporate smear ads and intensive lobbying based on the falsehood that the bill would take away the secret ballot. But they've been buoyed by strong pro-worker actions last week by the White House and a tough new ad campaign launched this Sunday pushing back against what they call corporate lies. While businesses see the bill as a threat to their drive to keep workers' wages low and weaken their clout in the workplace, workers like Theresa Gares, a school bus driver for Durham School Services in New Jersey, have been fired trying to organize a union. In seeking to join a union, Gares and her co-workers wanted to improve their minimal job benefits. They currently have no sick leave or vacation time. Their health benefits cost between $200 and $500 per month for family coverage, but because their employer classifies them as part-time workers, they only have partial benefits--and that means their coverage is so limited, there is no deductible above which insurance will cover. Despite paying hundreds of dollars a month for coverage, the workers are often left with large medical bills. In short, Gares says she sought a union because "maybe we can have something better." Gares is in the process of filing unfair labor practice charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, challenging her termination as illegal. But in the meantime, she has to figure out how to live with no income and no health benefits. Despite, the setbacks, she is determined to fight on. "These big companies need to stop walking over all of us little people," Gares says. That's why workers are coming to Capitol Hill tomorrow to ask for their rights to be protected. The AFL-CIO NOW blog reports on Wednesday's rally: The union movement's Million Member Mobilization has been a great success, collecting 1.5 million signatures and showing broad public support for the freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life. You can see some of the cards representing the broad coalition of union members and nonunion members here. (To add your name to the petition to support Employee Free Choice, click here.) The fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act kicks off with a rally at 12:30 p.m. in the upper Senate park outside the U.S. Capitol. Workers from across the nation who were intimidated and harassed during their attempt to form a union will speak about what's wrong with our current system and why the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary to help fix it. These workers are just a few of the thousands of workers who are coerced or even terminated every year for trying to exercise their basic freedom to form a union and bargain. In addition to workers who have faced corporate coercion in their attempt to form a union, the rally will feature Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), two sponsors of the Employee Free Choice Act. United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard also will speak. After the rally, workers will visit their members of Congress to speak directly about the importance of fixing our broken system and restoring the freedom to form unions. The voices of ordinary workers are essential to counterbalance the multimillion dollar disinformation campaign coming from corporations and their shady front groups. This rally and the new ad campaign, though, have set off alarm bells in the business community. Take the hard-line posting on the National Association of Manufacturers' blog, Shopfloor, headlined, "Card Check: A Rally and Introduction and the Big Lie Technique." As in all Rovian smear campaigns, the first step is to accuse your opponent of engaging in the low-ball tactics that you're using, in this case lying about the secret ballot. Previously, all the ad campaigns and press spint had a simple, false message -- that the bill takes away the secret ballot -- but now that the unions and a few independent reporters and bloggers such as Jane Hamsher have called them on that falsehood, they've switched to another meme: the Employee Free Choice Act "effectively" takes away the right to the secret ballot. Here's the anti-worker coalition's latest spin: We're hearing through the grapevine that the union front group, American Rights at Work, is organizing a rally at the Capitol for Wednesday to promote the anti-democratic Employee Free Choice Act. The rally could signal introduction of the bill; Rep. George Miller (D-CA) recently sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter soliciting cosponsors. American Rights at Work launched a big ad campaign Sunday (video, newspaper) attacking employers as evil and exploitative and again using the Big Lie technique of claiming the Employee Free Choice Act doesn't eliminate the secret ballot in union elections. In some abstract, theoretical world, maybe, but in the real world of the workplace and union organizing, of course the legislation eliminates the secret ballot. Organized labor is playing workers and the public for idiots. The real idiots, though, are members of the media who fall for that line and parrot the claim that the bill takes away the secret ballot -- even with the new weasel word, "effectively," added to the anti-union spin. You can read more about in my column at the Huffington Post today, and if you'd like to see it get even wider visibility on the Web, click on the Yahoo Buzz! or Digg icons on the story at Huffington Post or here. Union activists are urging progressives to attend the rally, if possible, and add their support by signing the petition for the bill here. Workers like Theresa Gares need your support, union activists say, by backing the Employee Free Choice Act.

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Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
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