Cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog.
Yesterday on Capitol Hill, thousands of union members and allies gathered to rally for the Employee Free Choice Act, a critical bill to restore the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain.
They brought along hundreds of thousands of signatures representing workers around the country who are taking part in the fight for the freedom to form unions. During the union movement's Million-Member Mobilization, 1.5 million people signed on to support the Employee Free Choice Act. Some of those signed cards were delivered to members of Congress today as a show of broad public support.
Sara Steffens, one of the workers who spoke at the rally today, was laid off after helping her co-workers form a union—even though she was an award-winning reporter at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Steffans said it's critical that workers have a role in making decisions in the workplace, and she wants to help prevent the kind of abuses that occurred during her struggle to form a union. That's why she's working on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act.
"A lot of the people who organize unions are people who love what they do and are really committed to it. It's important that workers feel like they can step up and be part of decisions in the workplace."
Steffens said she was surprised at the level of intimidation and the misleading campaign waged by her employer, who she never expected to be so hostile to workers' attempts to form a union.
I read the National Labor Relations Act and thought, 'What a great country we live in.' I stood by my conviction that they wouldn't retaliate. I thought, 'That's against the law.' I thought it couldn't happen to me, because I had been a good employee.
The workers who spoke at the rally are a small sampling of the thousands who every year are intimidated, threatened or fired for trying to form a union and bargain for a better life. They wanted the power to have a say in their health care, pensions, wages and treatment at work—and they were punished for exercising that right by a corporate-dominated system. The Employee Free Choice Act would restore balance and give workers—not their bosses—the freedom to decide how to form a union.
Asela Espiritu, a nurse with Kaiser Permanente, works for one of the employers in the country that allows workers to form unions without management interference. At Kaiser, nurses are engaged in the process of providing quality patient care, working with—not against—management.
Workers need the Employee Free Choice Act, Espiritu says, so other workers can have the same opportunity she's had, free of coercion and intimidation and able to bargain for a better life and better conditions in the workplace.
The Employee Free Choice Act will empower workers within all kinds of industries. They'll be part of the solution to the crisis we're in....As unionized workers, we have a voice with management. We're on equal footing. It helps workers; it helps our patients; and it helps our company.
Also present at the rally were Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who have co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress in past years.
Miller told the rally:
Time and again, you've seen your hard work, your creativity, your ingenuity, your productivity taken from you and given to shareholders, to the elites, to CEOs. Decisions about the workpace belong to the worker...that's the promise of America. It's fooish to think we will rebuild this country wirhout the participation of the American worker.
The right to organize is a basic human right, and we're not going to let anyone take it away. Everyone benefits from unions. When people are organized, everyone starts doing better.
Allison Chin, president of the Sierra Club, said the Employee Free Choice Act could help protect the environment:
The right to organize will lead to protections for workers and for the environment. We stand with you to deflect attacks on the most basic of rights for workers.
Speaking about the rally on CNBC, the AFL-CIO's Stewart Acuff said we need the Employee Free Choice Act to put economic power into workers' hands where it belongs.
We've had 30 years of wage stagnation and decline. That's one of the reasons we don't have enough buying power in this economy. We need to restore collective bargaining to strengthen the middle class.
On Fox News, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka said the Employee Free Choice Act is necessary to fix a system that puts workers at the mercy of corporations.
You talk about intimidation—that's the current system. The employer spends billions of dollars hiring outside consultants to determine how people are going to vote, so they can threaten them, they can intimidate them....Let me tell you what intimidation is—when a worker says they want a union, and their employer fires them. Twenty-five thousand people get intimidated today. That's today's system...the employer's in control. The Employee Free Choice Act will put the worker back in control....It will allow workers for the first time to say, "I want a union and we'll get a union."
The Employee Free Choice Act earned bipartisan majority support in both the House and the Senate during the last Congress, but it was blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Now, with a larger pro-worker majority in both houses and President Obama in the White House, the bill has a strong chance of being signed into law this year.
It's time to pass the legislation and give workers the freedom they deserve.