GOP plays “chicken” with economy in fight over Solis, Employee Free Choice Act

Art Levine

Despite rising unemployment and a cratering economy, the GOP has placed a hold on the nomination of President Obama's choice for Secretary of Labor, the pro-worker Hilda Solis. The issue at stake is the Employee Free Choice Act, which aims to give workers a level playing field by allowing workers to choose a majority sign-up approach, dubbed "card check" by anti-union flacks, for selecting a union -- rather than keeping that option in the hands of employers. But the original Wagner Act in the 1930s gave workers the right to use a majority sign-up process if they so choose, rather than the current election system that allows widespread intimidation by employers. Studies of hundreds of organizing campaigns have found that a fifth of all pro-union activists are fired during a campaign, half of all employers threaten to shut down their plant and roughly 80% of employers hire unionbusting consultants. Employers are still free under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act to hold intimidating one-on-one "sweat" sessions to legally discourage workers from joining a union. And, as I found out while going undercover to a unionbusting seminar for In These Times, it's equally legal for employers to just lie about the dire consequences facing workers if they join a union, from closed plants to somehow losing seniority and benefits. That's the system the Employee Free Choice Act was designed to reform, by increasing penalties for corporate lawbreaking, allowing employees to choose the majority sign-up approach but still retaining the employees' rights to hold a secret-ballot NLRB election if they want. Even so, the right wing and the GOP have launched a high-profile smear campaign claiming, falsely, that the bill takes away the right to a secret ballot. Based on that lie, GOP leaders , with the help of an anonymous Republican Senator who has put a hold on Solis's nomination, are trying to force the Obama administration and any wavering Democratic Senators into backing away from the Employee Free Choice Act. But the Obama administration and leaders in Congress still support the legislation, even if they're not launching a full-court press to push the bill right now, because the economic recovery package is the top priority. As part of an apparently low-keyed labor effort to move Solis's nomination forward (since her selection is still highly likely), some union activists have set up a Facebook page to help generate support for the Solis nomination, and they're providing some valuable information on how to contact your Senators and reasons for supporting Solis: "Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor" http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=47640477946 We support a swift Senate confirmation of Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor. The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster and promote the welfare of U.S. employees and retirees by improving their working conditions and protecting their benefits, helping employers find workers and strengthening free collective bargaining. We believe Hilda Solis is the best choice to lead and inspire the 16,600 Department of Labor employees in support of the rights of working Americans. The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held its first confirmation hearing for Secretary of Labor-Designate Hilda Solis on January 9, 2009. Go to this Web link to view the question and answer portion of the hearing. Comments appreciated. Calls, e-mails, and letters to your U.S. Senators would be even better. Join "Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor" on Facebook and post statements of support. To find up to date contact information for your U.S. Senators and other elected officials go to this website. The GOP's opposition to Solis is aided by right-wing and mainstream media outlets echoing the business groups' talking points and lies. Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake and Media Matters have been especially vigorous in their coverage, but no one matches Hamsher's much-needed bite in skewering reporters' mindless repetition of the Big Lies of conservatives. Some of their whoppers, backed with $200 million worth of paid ads and lobbying: The Employee Free Choice Act takes away the secret ballot, names of those who signed cards authorizing a union are shown to employers and posted in the workplace (they're held confidentially by the National Labor Relations Board representative), unions weaken the economy in a time of peril, ad nauseum. Today, she takes on W. James Antle III of the of The American Spectator. Her points are so on target that they're worth citing at some length. She starts by debunking Antle's peddling of bogus anti-union poll numbers: "Three out of four voters (74%) oppose the "The Employee Free Choice Act”. Union households also strongly oppose the Employee Free Choice Act, 74% oppose to only 20% support. "When given a more detailed description of the Employee Free Choice Act, nearly 9 out of 10 voters, 86%, feel the process should remain private and only 8% feel it should be public information. Again, even union workers feel strongly that the process should be kept private, as 88% said private and only 8% said public." We strive for a bit more intellectual rigor around here, so let's look into what Republican pollsters McLaughlin & Associates consider "a more detailed description" of the Employee Free Choice Act. [The Atlantic's Marc] Ambinder: "Pollster John McLaughlin, working for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace,the question this way: There is a bill in Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act which would effectively replace a federally supervised secret ballot election with a process that requires a majority of workers to simply sign a card to authorize organizing a union and the workers' signatures would be made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Do you support or oppose Congress passing this legislation." "Worker's signatures would be made public to their employer, their union organizers and their co-workers." Yes, one can see where that might make union members uncomfortable. Who would guess that it's a zombie lie? I wrote a detailed description the other day about how secret ballot works vs. majority signup ("card check"), and I guess we'll just have to keep repeating it until it sinks in…: This is how majority sign-up ("card check") would work under the Employee Free Choice Act: A union decides they want to unionize workers of a particular company. They have to collect cards signed by more than 50% of that company's eligible workers saying that they want to join the union and allow that union to negotiate with management on their behalf. The union then turns the cards over to the NLRB, who verifies them. If more than 50% of the cards are verified by the NLRB, the union is recognized and they can begin negotiating with the employer for a first contract. Got that? "Secret ballot" isn't "more secret," it's an extra step. In both cases, the union is responsible for getting cards signed and turning them over to the NLRB, so they know who has signed them. The "secret ballot" is just an extra hurdle that workers have to surmount if they want to recognize a union. Union organizers know who signed the cards in both majority signup and "secret ballot," but at no point are signatures shown to "employers" or "fellow workers," they go straight to the NLRB. It's just pure horseshit to say anything else, but W. James Antle III is all too willing to accept the deeply flawed data of The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (which he describes as "an organization, should be noted, that opposes the Employee Free Choice Act." Ya think?) Yo Jim. I don't know if you're consciously passing on these lies or just easily played by lobbyists, but it looks bad for you either way. There's a reason they didn't include the language of the question on the press release. It's nonsense. For now, aided by such propaganda, GOP leaders -- just as with their unionbusting opposition to the auto bailout -- appear to be willing to play "chicken" with the nation's troubled economy by holding up the vote on the Labor Secretary, a key player in the Obama administration's economic recovery team. Stewart Acuff, the special assistant to the AFL-CIO president, bluntly condemns the risky tactic -- and points out its dangers to the GOP itself: " It's a bogus issue for them to use to hold up a Latino woman from a working-class background who understands the labor movement from the ground up and is a strong proponent of workers' rights. It's ridiculous and ultimately damaging to their party." On top of that, with Obama enjoying nearly 80 percent public support, their obstructionist tactics over Solis throw a roadblock into Obama's plans for an economic recovery, with the Labor Department playing a key role in everything from jobs retraining to stopping wage theft to extending unemployment benefits. And the Employee Free Choice Act, as a new report from American Rights at Work Points out, is an essential part of making any economic recovery plan work. You can read more here on the economic impact and Republican dirty tricks at Huffington Post. The hold on the Solis nomination is an opening battle in the upcoming war over the Employee Free Choice Act, and it still remains to be seen whether the broader progressive community will be joining with their union allies in pushing for the Labor Secretary and legislation needed to empower workers -- and boost the economy.

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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.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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