Novick: Unions Need Our Help So They Can Keep Helping the Rest of Us

From U.S. Senate candidate Steve Novick:

There was a time in America when the standard of living was rising for everybody. When CEOs didn't make 400 times what the average worker made. When the richest 1 percent of Americans did not eat up 20 percent of national income.

That time was, roughly, the period 1947 to 1973. Not coincidentally, during that time, labor unions represented a much larger share of the nation's workforce than they do today.

I know that some people think that unions are old-fashioned. But some truths are not old; they aren't new; they are timeless. And one of those timeless truths is this: The only way that regular folks can get a fair deal from the rich and powerful is if they band together and stand together. And that, my friends, is what unions are all about.

Over the past 30 years or so, the power of organized labor to get workers a fairer deal has declined. Partly, that's because of foreign competition (aided by trade agreements slanted toward the interests of capital rather than labor); partly, it's because of the decline of employment in traditionally unionized industries.

But partly, it's because of the law. In the early 1970s, many American corporations were in a mood to break the social contract that had prevailed in the postwar period – and they realized that the law made it easy to break the contract. The Wagner Act, the basic labor law, never had serious penalties for companies who illegally fire workers for trying to organize. If you can prove you were fired illegally, you get back pay, minus anything you made at another job. That means that a company can fire the leaders of an organizing drive at minimal risk. Starting in the 1970s, many corporations began to take advantage of that fact. They also took advantage of the many opportunities the drawn out American union election process affords employers to threaten and intimidate workers.

Based on my eight years of experience in the Federal Justice Department, enforcing environmental laws, I know that a law isn't much use unless there are penalties for breaking it. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act made huge progress in cleaning up America's air and water – dramatically increasing the number of lakes and rivers that are swimmable and fishable, dramatically reducing the number of 'unhealthy air days' in majorities – largely because, of you violate either Act, you may pay a penalty of up to $25,000 per day per violation.

So one of the first things I will do, once I am in the Senate, is sign up as a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA imposes real penalties for breaking the law. It simplifies the election process. It gives working Americans a real chance to band together and stand together, and negotiate a fairer deal once again.

EFCA passed the House of Representatives this year. But it stalled in the Senate because the Republicans – including Gordon Smith – filibustered it.

That's one of the main reasons I have for running against Gordon Smith. The people who brought us the weekend need our help … so they can keep helping all of us.

Discuss.

Comments

  • Brian (unverified)
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    "It simplifies the election process."

    In other words, it would make it easier to strong arm employees who might prefer not to join a particular union. The lack of a private ballot is especially troubling. Go along or else, right?

    The right to organize is fundamental, but the EFCA goes too far.

  • Randy2 (unverified)
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    What are you afraid of, Brian?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Novick's analysis is accurate.

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    I gotta agree with Brian on this. And it has nothing to do with Novick (or Merkley who is also strongly pro-union).

    The right to organize is fundamental and deserves to be strongly supported with the force of law. But unions themselves are not the panecea that they're too often made out to be. Ultimately it has to be about the individual's best interests rather than the union's best interests.

    I've only been a member of one union. I willingly helped vote them in to what had always been a non-union shop. But the same local that was supposed to be looking out for our best interests tried to cut a side deal with management that would have materially harmed the union members in our shop by setting up an operation literally across the street where the union wage scale would have been lower than on our side of the street... this while our side of the street was facing layoffs. Same union, same local, same company, same type of work. The union guys clearly wanted to keep the dues rolling in regardless of what that took or who it harmed. It took a direct threat from our Shop Steward to immediately vote the union out before the union guys agreed to back off.

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    The right to organize is fundamental and deserves to be strongly supported with the force of law. But unions themselves are not the panecea that they're too often made out to be. Ultimately it has to be about the individual's best interests rather than the union's best interests.

    So vote no. When votes to certify are liberalized, votes to DEcertify can be as well.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Kevin,

    Bureaucratic self-interest is a universal problem, but worlers are almost always going to be in a more powerful position when united than when dealing as individuals with owners.

    Management almost always breaks the law with impunity when fighting organization.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Kevin,

    Bureaucratic self-interest is a universal problem, but worlers are almost always going to be in a more powerful position when united than when dealing as individuals with owners.

    Management almost always breaks the law with impunity when fighting organization.

  • Dale Thompson (unverified)
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    Kevin; Sorry about your bad experience but glad you had a good union shop steward. Think of what would have happened if he/she wasn't there for you.

    Now to another issue. Immigration is going to continue to be a hot issue. So called "Moderates" speak of a "guest worker program." I might be in favor of such a thing only, and I want to stress <bold>only</bold>, if those workers are allowed allowed to organize unions in whatever line of work they are in. I have an idea that would be anathema to the corporate controlled politicians of both parties. But it would be the just thing to do.

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    I agree, Tom. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the focus needs to be on the individual's rights and protecting them rather than on the union's rights and protecting them. That there will necessarily be some overlap goes without saying. But the individual is supposed to be the point of the exersize and we need to keep that as our focus.

    Dale, he is an all around great guy and I should probably point out that he is about as flaming of a liberal as I do believe I've ever met. For all I know, he may lurk here. But without a doubt he would fit in perfectly, either way.

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    Thanks to the USWA, my dad (an electrician) earned a solid, comfortable living, had great health insurance, and was able to invest in a little bit of real estate and send both his kids to college. I freely acknowledge that like all mass movements, organized labor has seen some excesses and overreaching, but when I think about the relative bargaining power of an individual worker and a large industrial corporation, I'm glad the worker has a right to organize.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    The EFCA is a union tactic in search of a problem. Historically, the NLRB does not allow employers the right to campaign until AFTER the cards have been handed out and a collective bargaining agent (read union) seeks representation. Few unions will go forward with the representation petition until/unless they have at least 70 per cent of cards signed.

    Then, once the company is officially on notice they can begin their campaign. They are barred from employee homes and can not enjoin union organizers from break time activity. Currently the ONLY campaigning the company is allowed is on company time.

    The card signing process is coercive and secretive at best. It pits workers against each other and is not representative of an 'open' opportunity to choose.

    Once a campaign is allowed to run, many employees find out how outrageous the lies of the organizers can be. That is why many elections never get held. The AFL-CIO, Teamsters et.al. can't loose an election that they back away from.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)
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    Just a little Labor Day anecdote to relate. Unless the trolls are really gunning for me, this should be safe.

    I had heard about this online merchandiser in political chotchkis, buttons and what-not... a sort of kitsch on demand interweb shoppe. Anywho... i went to Novick's website, either www.votehook.com or novickforsenate... i forget which. dudn't matter. So i go to his website and tell them about it... don't worry, this was a couple weeks AD (after DeFazio) and a little BM (before Merkley) so there was no conflict of interest. So i get this reply from the campaign, saying thanks for the tip, but it turns out it's not a union shop. I have since learned that Steve Novick is solidly pro-union.

    [Disclaimer: I belonged to a crappy union back in the day. And i'm still pro-union! Good for you, Steve.]

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    Yup, you generally won't find any Democratic campaigns that get printing or swag produced at non-union shops. The last one I remember in Oregon was Tanya Collier for City Council back in the late 90s. She got torched.

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    Oh, come off it Kurt. Card signing is secretive and coercive? How about mandatory attendance closed proganda meetings, lying threats to close shops or offices, threats and actual firings of pro-union workers?

    The workers ARE the union, when they join.

    A union is an association of workers. Employers should have no say in that at all. There are arguments to be made about freedom of speech, although we should note that workers do not have freedom of speech at work. But even if we accept the free speech arguments, that does not include the right to coerce attendance at meetings or to force participation in one-on-one high-pressure meetings with managers. Part of my freedom of speech is the right to walk away from you, or shut the door in your face, as workers can do when approached by pro-union fellow workers.

    TorridJoe has it just right -- decertification or deciding to join a different union should be easy too, provided management isn't allowed to coerce workers into it.

    I'm guessing that that you don't think workers (unionized or not) ought to be able to vote to vote on say mergers or plant closures or contracts likely to affect their livelihoods etc. As recent reneging on pensions by major companies shows, and corrupt self-dealing with company stocks affecting pensions, a la Enron, it is not just investors who take risks in businesses. If the right to vote on management issues is based on taking financial risks, workers ought to get a vote too on that principle.

    <h2>In lieu of defining corporations as entities in which workers are vote-holding stakeholders, we have collective bargaining. The right to form a collective in which to bargain is a human right under international law as well as an imperfectly protected right under U.S. law. Workers should be free to choose whether or not to exercise that right without management interference.</h2>
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