Why every Oregonian should care about the freedom to organize a union

By Tom Chamberlain of Portland, Oregon. Tom is a 27-year fire fighter from Portland, is the President of the Oregon AFL-CIO.

Union-busters do more than harass workers and interfere with workplace democracy. They undermine our communities in a way that affects all working families, union and non-union alike.

That’s why today’s announcement that members of Congress are introducing the Employee Free Choice Act is great news for all of us.

Studies show that states where more people join a union and collectively bargain for pay and benefits are states with higher wages, better benefits and better schools. Unions raise wages – especially for minorities and women, and bring low-wage workers out of poverty. Union workers are 61 percent more likely to have employer-provided health coverage and four times more likely to have pensions.

It’s for these reasons and more that we say that “good jobs build strong communities.” And it’s why, when employers interfere in workers’ decision about having a union, the community loses -- the quality of life declines and the rich and poor grow farther apart.

Today, the union-busting industry is largely unchecked.

National labor laws were built for an earlier time, and the dated structure leaves enormous gaps for the union-busting machine to stir up – largely without consequences – employer abuse. These high-priced consultants have made the union decision process a virtual minefield. When workers are conducting an organizing campaign:

The EFCA will help restore much-needed democracy in the workplace.

The Employee Free Choice Act would update our federal labor laws to simply restore workers’ freedom to choose, without intimidation or harassment, whether to join a union.

Nationally, it would:

  1. let workers form a union when the majority voluntarily sign up to be represented by a union;

  2. provide for first contract mediation and arbitration so that employers can no longer endlessly drag their feet to nullify a vote; and

  3. establish meaningful penalties when an employer violates a worker’s freedom to choose a union.

The Oregon AFL-CIO is supporting State Rep. Diane Rosenbaum’s resolution to ask Congress to pass the EFCA.

We hope to have the support of our progressive allies as we fight this battle. Whether your issue is health care, seniors and retirement, good schools, or any number of the day-to-day issues that working families face, we hope that you will see that restoring the freedom to organize means a better Oregon for all of us.

  • Christy (unverified)

    I'm so glad to hear that this important issue is taking such a high priority for today's labor leaders and in the new Congress. With union membership at an all time low, it's no wonder that our jobs are going overseas, real wages are down, and an astounding number of Americans are without healthcare and pensions (or any sort of retirement savings).
    I think that increasing union membership is our best hope for tackling these issues, and this bill is a great step toward rebuilding the vanishing middle class.

  • Bend (unverified)

    I hear story after story of worker abuse. Bus drivers here in Bend just voted to join a union because they were being forced to take breaks in the snow, didn't have good pay or benefits, etc. Management sent intimidating letters forcing some to go to closed-door meetings and excluding others from the same meetings. It's just crazy what companies can get away with. Now the bus drivers have voted to join the union but the company is dragging its feet and contesting the election. No wonder union membership is down. Who has that kind of resilience?

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    When I was a Temp years ago, I was at this company that told it's workers that because they were under a certain amount of workers, that company was exempt from having a union. When the workers questioned this, they were told that unionization was an item under pulic law, and that the company was a private orginization, and therefoire under private law - not public law.

    I know and you know that there is no such thing as a private/public law difference, but what can a person do with a company with that kind of attitude?

  • e.g. (unverified)

    Thanks to Rep. Rosenbaum! I hope that our Reps and Senators in Washington also realize how important an issue this is. I have heard stories from a friend of what they faced when they tried to unionize and it was horrible - they were scared for their jobs. No one should have to choose between an unsafe work environment and unfair pay, or loosing their job. Joining a union needs to be a fair process.

  • Mark Schwebke (unverified)

    Kudos to Representative Diane Rosenbaum for introducing this resolution to provide fairness and finally trying to curb employer abuses during the organizing process and initial contract bargaining periods.

    Oregon will be stronger in many ways if we restore the right to organize – better health care, better schools, better pensions...

    Raising wages and benefits can lift all boats, not just for organized but for the unorganized as well. One only has to look at the pathetic attempts to scuttle the minimum wage by a bunch of $165,000 per year salaried senators who purport to "represent the people."

    Mark Schwebke President, AFT-Oregon

  • dddave (unverified)

    Yes, with more unions like the teachers and state employees, I can rest assured that those union members can enjoy better pay and much better benefits than what is available or affordable in the public sector, all while I work until I am seventy years old to pay for it, while they retire at 52 at 108% and then "consult" back to the state. Tom, the firefighters get an awesome deal too, you dont need protected, you need your own house cleaned. With these unions pilfering our pockets, there just is not any credibility left over for other unions, even if they are really needed in a few situations.

  • lionloco (unverified)

    Congress is long overdue in recognizing the critical fight for workers rights. A workers right to form a union, or to join a union, has never been more important than at this point in our history. Workers rights to form unions have often been bathed in blood. Worker rights for an 8-hour day, overtime, and affordable health care for their families are the foundation for an American way of life for all. A workforce united together provides our most important weapon against corporate corruption, ceo sleaze, and a self-serving administration. A very large majority of American workers are in favor of unions, and would join unions today if they did not have to fear for their jobs. A union workforce is the best avenue workers have that ensures their side gets heard. In unity there is strength. In unionity, there is the opportunity for workers to band together and fight like hell for their rights. Congress should expeditiously pass the EFCA without a debate and truly represent the will of America for a change. Thank you, Tom, for stating a very important need for our workers.

  • bart (unverified)


    I work with hundreds of Oregon employers as a consultant. From workplace to workplace it is clear: the right to organize is vital to the health of our economy. We must keep labor's voice in the mix. Congress needs to recognize what the rest of us know: the people that actually do the work need to keep their rights to be heard! Don't let the subtle erosion of workers rights be the footnote to 2007!

  • s. dailey (unverified)

    Thank-you Diane Rosenbaum!! This is truly an important issue. Workers should be able to freely choose whether they want union representation. I am a union member and it has made a very positive impact on my life. I am now fully self-supporting, and for the first time in my adult life, have health insurance that allows me to get medical help when I need it--at no cost to taxpayers. Unions are a positive (and much needed) force in America.

  • smiley (unverified)

    I usually think of unions as being for hard-hat guys. Didn't think about it in terms of having a big impact on the economy. Makes sense. Thanks.

  • Alan (unverified)

    The right to organize a union is a fundamental human right that is internationally recognized. The U.S. is in gross violation of international standards and its high time that this set of rights be recognized for what they are -- human rights. It's hard to imagine how we can maintain/develop a vibrant democracy while adults spend the majority of their waking hours without any rights of free speech, assembly, etc. This is core to our democracy and the dimunition of our ability to enjoy labor rights is directly connected to the erosion of our political rights and our democracy. Kudos to all who are pushing for this important legislation.

  • Jerry Fletcher (unverified)

    This is the first step in a long and very needed journey. This is not about unions as much as harrassment in the workplace. No one should be discriminated, fired, or forced to quit just because they want to improve their place of employment and that is exactly what is happening.

    It is sad that some managers will pay a high-priced union busting attorney, employ expensive harrasment tactics such as company one-on-one meetings, fire productive employees, etc. just to get out of giving their employees a voice at work. Those same managers get a bonus for denying healthcare, childcare, pensions to the very people that make the company profitable.

    The First Amendment is one of our most honored rights and we have troops overseas defending those same rights. Men and women have died face down in the mud and sand so the Iraqi people can have a voice without fear of reprimand. DON'T YOU THINK OUR OWN WORKFORCE DESERVES THE SAME? If you do, then please support the Employees Free Choice Act introduced by Rep. Rosenbaum.

    Jerry Fletcher Central Oregon Labor Council

  • Scott R (unverified)

    Here's a statistic I didn't see quoted:

    "With secret ballots, unions win just over 50% of their elections. With card authorizations, however, unions win more than 80% of the time."


    Golly, I wonder why?

  • Mark Schwebke (unverified)

    Anti-union folks claim their lives are so much better because they aren't in a union and don't pay dues. However the correlation between unionized jobs and a better life both for the unionized worker and their families has been proven over and over. The question is, why would those folks who think unions are so bad want to work for less wages, and little or no benefits while watching the bosses they work for get rich?

    Now, the only way that makes any sense is if you own a small business. Having been a small businessman in the past, I used to work 70-80 hour weeks trying to get the business off the ground, so I have some admiration and some experience with independent work.

    However, the old saw that there would be less jobs under a unionized workforce begs the question, why are those anti-union jokers so willing to trash unions while not having the conjones to join together with their own staffs and insist on a fair wage and decent benefits for their work at their own workplaces? If high wages and great benefits are good enough for their boss and our own congress, why isn't that standard good enough for them?

    In states that have laws restricting workers' rights to form strong unions, the average pay for all workers is lower. So-called "right-to-work" laws that limit workers' rights to collectively bargain contracts (including wages and benefits) are a bad deal for all workers. In 2003, average pay in so-called "right-to-work" states was nearly 15 percent lower than in states where workers have the freedom to form strong unions.

    There's a broader point of view that needs to be analyzed, and that is countries where the majority workers work for basically nothing, with no rights whatsoever, where just talking about organizing a union can get you killed.

    Think of it, we spend the majority of our working lives in the workplace. Surely, having a say in the working conditions, wages and benefits of that experience just makes commmon sense to all but the most cynical.

  • T-Holden (unverified)

    I am one of those who for many years now have enjoyed working under a union contract. Having belonged to different locals as well as different unions I know that becuase of others I live a better life.

    I've worked for non-union shops in management positions and know what it is like to be told that if a union is formed the plant will be closed and moved.

    We should be a model for our trade agreements and hold other countries to higher standards as well as our own.

    The Worker Freedom Act will give employees the freedom to walk away from political, anti-union, and religious indoctrination meetings, and would bar employers from firing or discipling workers who choose not to attend or who report unlawful forced meetings.

  • Ross Day (unverified)

    Okay, this is a serious question,and please don't take it as me advocating against unions, because I am not. How does the EFCA affect the right to work arguments advanced by others? I think I can anticipate the answer, but maybe someone can educate me on this point.

    I am ignorant on the process of organizing a collective bargaining unit. To me, and maybe I am wrong here, it seems to me that workers who choose to form a union are merely exercising their first amendment rights to peacably assemble and associate. Am I right or am I missing something? Kinda pisses me off to think that we have to pass specific legislation like this to protect a person's civil rights.

    Looking forward to the education.....

  • (Show?)

    Ross said Kinda pisses me off to think that we have to pass specific legislation like this to protect a person's civil rights.

    Yeah, me too. But that's the America we live in today. In the absence of a strong union with strong legal protections, employers can misbehave horribly. Remember our Rep. Bob Tiernan, down in California, walking down a picket line (people peaceably assembling and speaking), punching out people?

    Remember that the Constitution only applies to the government. So you don't really have any rights to free speech, free assembly, or free association when it comes to a workplace controlled by a private employer.

    So, if we believe those rights should extend to a workplace, we have to protect them by statute.

    I'm with ya, Ross, it's hard to believe that those rights don't automatically extend there. But they don't. So we must be vigilant.

    We'll make you a progressive yet, my friend.

  • T-Holden (unverified)

    How do workers form a union under the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)?

    1. Employees collect signatures of support from 30% of co-workers.

    2. Employer may file legal objections.

    3. When all objections are settled, employer provides list of employee names & address, and the NLRB schedules an elections.

    4. Election is held at the workplace, normally within a month of #3 above.

    Real simple even sounds Democratic!

    Now from the real wrold prospective and viewing an-uneven playing field. This is where the Anti-Union Consultants and Attorneys: with their $1 Billion Industry come in to play.

    Keeping in mind that what is being asked here is that we look at the American Workers" Right to Organize: and realize The Need for Legislative Reform.

    Polling data show that 30-50 million Americans who are not now union members say they wish they had a union in their work place.

    About 500,000 workers gain union recognition each year.

    What stops the other 29.5-49.5 Million?

    What makes Elections "Free and Fair"? Secret Ballots Are Not Enough

    Equal Access to Voter Lists Equal Access to Media Free Speech No Economic Coercion of Voters

    Access to Voter Rolls

    Elections to Congress: both sides have equal access to all voter rolls.

    NLRB "elections": pro-union employees don't get list of eligible voters until one month before the vote.

    Access to Voter Rolls: Consultant Practice

    "I provided the minimum information legally required... I never included first names, only the first initial. I listed the employee's house number and street, but always was sure to leave out apartment numbers and street designations such as Street, Avenue, Drive, or Place. I never included zip codes... The union-organizing process was contaminated from the beginning."

    Quote from Marty Levitt, Confessions of a Union Buster, 1992

    Free Speech?

    Employees can be forced to attend mandatory meetings for anti-union speeches and videos.

    Pro-union employees can be forced to attend on condition that they keep their mouth shut.

    If they speak up or ask a question, they can be fired on the spot.

    Economic Coercion: Federal Elections

    Private corporations cannot say anything to employees that endorses one candidate over another, or says one would be better business.

    Employers cannot invite one candidate to address employees without giving equal opportunity to the opposition.

    Companies restricted on soliciting rank-and-file employees for contributions to corporate PAC.

    Alexander Hamilton: "Power over a man's purse is generally, power over his will."

    Economic Coercion: NLRB Elections

    Supervisors meet one-on-one with subordinates to press anti-union message.

    Employee "predict" union will result in layoffs.

    Supervisors distribute anti-union buttons, shirts, etc, and watch who wears what.

    Management may say anything as long as it's not an explicit quid pro quo threat.

    NLRB Elections: Legal Management Statements*

    I'm afriad that a union might "hamper the employee's personal relations with the company."

    An "employee's job might be affected by having a union." Rember-- "the employee's family is dependent on his paycheck!"

    • The NLRB has ruled that these statements do not constitute coercion.

    Tactics Used in Anti-Union Campaigns

    Held forced-attendance meetings number of meetings

    Mailed letters to home number of letters

    Distributed leaflets in workplace number of leaflets

    Supervisor met 1-on-1 with subordinates

    Fired union supporters

    Aided anti-union committee

    Used anti-union videos

    Threatened full or partial closing

    Consultants' Primary Goal: No Elections

    "Winning an NLRB election undobtedly is an achievement; a greater achievement is not having one at all!"

    Quote from Jackson Lewis.

    Ukraine elections 2002, condemned by US State Dept:

    Employees of state-owned enterprise pressured to support ruling party.

    Mineworkers pressed to withdraw from union supportive of opposition.

    Faculty & students told to vote for specific candidates.

    State facilities selectively available to only certain candidates.

    Ruling party dominated media; opposition heavily restricted.

    1 of every 17 voters in NLRB recongnition elections is fired, demoted, or suspended for backing uniomization.

    If U.S. elections were run the same was, 7.5 million Americans would have been economically punished for backing the "wrong" candidate in 2004.

    2004 Employer lawsuit against Jackson Lewis

    Jackson, Lewis was charged by its client with advising illegal tactics in "a relentiess and unlawful campaign to oust the union" that included spying on workers, firing of union activists, organizing a bogus "employee" anti-union committee, writing supposedly employee-authorized fliers calling union activists "trailer trash" and "dog woman," and supplying cash-filled enevelopes to anti-union employees.

    Steven Greenhouse, "How Do You Drive Out a Union? South Carolina Factory Provides a Textbook Case," NY Times 12/14/04

    Alternatives to NLRB System

    Recognize unions on basis of signed statements from majority of employees.

    No use of public money for anti- (or pro-) union campaigns.

    Employer "neutrality" in choice of whether or not to form a union.

    Statement of plagiarism: as you can tell I recently attended a seminar so the information I used I borrowed with out permission. I would not have used it or wasted my time at the seminar if I hadn't known from first - hand experience this subject.

    Kinda long winded but we need specific legislation like this to protect a person's civil rights and freedom to organize a union.

  • (Show?)

    I totally agree... As a "union brat" who grew up in a UFCW household where we never crossed the picket line, as a former Union President (AFTRA) and now an Association rep at my school...I can tell you the most important issue is making sure our young people do understand about collective bargaining.

    Until we educate our youngest workforce who doesn't know why we have vacations for everyone, or sick days or parental leave or a list of other rights (that the unions worked hard for in all work places years ago) we will hurt only ourselves and our economy.

  • Stuart Fishman (unverified)

    I'm a grocery clerk and UFCW 555 union member. It seems to me that there is a correlation between the reduction of union members in the last few decades and the shift of wealth from the bottom and middle to the top. That's why the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)is so important. Employees need a REAL opportunity to form unions without interference from anti-union law firms. It is through our unions that we get a fair share of company profits. EFCA would also put some "teeth" in our national labor law. Nearly 10 years ago I complained to the NLRB about a former employer who wrote me up for posting in the break room the results of a university study which determined that union members were more likely than non-union members to receive the workers comp benefits they deserved. My boss did not disagree with the conclusion; he told me he did not want employees to feel positive about our union. I'm still waiting for the case to be resolved. If it is decided in my favor the employer will have to write me an apology. That amounts to a penalty of under $5. No wonder so many employers think nothing of violating our national labor law.

  • Judy O'Connor (unverified)

    Thank you to Rep. Diane Rosenbaum for introducing the resolution to urge Congress to pass the EFCA. It's about time that Congress take action to update our labor laws and stop the abuses. The Employee Free Choice Act would update our federal labor laws to simply restore workers' freedom to choose, without intimidation or harassment, whether to join a union. This should be everyone's right -- FREEDOM!!! Oregon will be stronger in many ways if we restore the right to organize - better health care, better schools, better pensions, better communities.

  • Arthur Stamoulis (unverified)

    According to testimony before the House Ways & Means Committee last week, the average American is making only a nickel more an hour in inflation-adjusted terms than in 1973 -- this despite massive improvements in US worker productivity over the same time period.

    If we want living standards to increase in this country, people who choose to join a union must be protected from employer harassment. A big thanks to Rep. Rosenbaum and everyone working to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

  • Tom L. (unverified)

    Thanks Diane and Tom. Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is the surest way to rebuild a vibrant middle class in America.

  • Bud (unverified)

    This is a right given under the Law but is not enforced to an extent of the Law. The power of the EFCA will ring clear when the Law has some teeth. I work with employees daily that have their right to Form, Assist or Join a Union stripped of them because the NLRB has been stripped of it's power to enforce this Federally protected right.This needs to be a Freedom of Choice if the law is broken the punished should not go without charge. If it were you or I the Middle Class, do you honestly think the Law would allow us to walk away each and every time we violated it, I think not. We must all stand behind this and rebuild America. Because without Unions America loses it's dream.If an owner had to live in the life of his employees for a year then maybe they would see things differently when they decided to violate the National Labor Relations Act.

  • Kevin (unverified)

    As a small business person I would like to raise a couple of issues that have not been addressed so far. The Employee Free Choice Act is a productivity and profitability tool. Over the last number of years there have been studies done that show unionized workplaces, well managed and well represented workplaces are anywhere from 6-12% more productive than those that are not. Anyone can find urban legends of unionized workplaces that have gone out of business because people did not change, this is not the result of unionization, but instead the result either drastic forces from the economic environment that could not be addressed or poor leadership by management. Even in those stories the economic and social health of the communities were enhanced because people were supported in their transition by a union, that either negotiates support or can mobilize state and community support.

    Anyone who has experienced working in an organization that has hired union-busters understands the amount of producitivity lost just in fending off the venom of these attacks on the employees that employers value so dearly, the lost time in sitting in mandatory meetings to hear how this is for the employees own good, and then the conversations that take place in the workplace that have absolutely nothing to do with providing a service or building a product. All of this activity is destroying exactly what businesses are in business to do, make a profit. Now add the fees these people charge for systematiclly underminig the employers business. Does this sound like insanity?

    The second point I want to make is the Employee Free Choice Act is supporting and enhancing the practice of direct democracy. Something we hear people complain about all the time, "People do not practice their right of demcracy". A union is the only place left in this country where individuals can practice on a daily basis "democracy". The ability to hear and experience diverse points of view on social, economic, technical and political issues and decide what is best for their self interest, the collective interest and yes, the business interest. All other expressions of democracy are of the representative nature. As a business person, a unionized workplace also forces me to practice my right of direct democracy, whether I want to or not. I can say in most cases my interests are met, change is implemented because workers as a collective take my interests into consideration whem making a decision. Yes I represent the legal economic interests of the business and I can not give that away, however by educating the workforce on those interests, they represent productivity interests and pride in the product and service, participative democracy is a much more powerful tool to business than representative democracy or servitude. Many businesses give workers a say over multi-million dollar pieces of equipment or large accounts, yet we don't trust that they can make a decision in their own best interest. The resistance to the Employee Free Choice Act by business, Congress and consultants is anti-democratic, anti-productivity, anti-profit and quite frankly anti-business.

    I would challenge union leaders to begin to bring forth the argument of health and welfare, productivity, quality and even profitability because there are alot of business people out there that have experienced this and will take up the challenge.

    Finally I would suggest that the closed door harrassment of employees falls under the term "bullying" an issue that is being considered in many countries and states as a clear health and safety violation.

    I will writing my Congressional delegation as a business person to support the Employee Free Choice Act, we waste too much time on this when we have a global economy that is kicking our ass.

  • (Show?)

    I used to enforce Federal environmental laws; the penalty for violating the Clean Air Act is "up to $25,000 per day per violation ..." Congress could adopt that as the labor law violation standard, with each day an illegally fired worker is out of work counted as a day of violation.

  • gl (unverified)

    "91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors"

    This stat is highly suspect, but I may be wrong. Does the author have documentation to back this up?

  • Union Family (unverified)

    Is this true?

    US Census Web site...

    Aprox. 15% of all workers in the U.S. are Union Members of one type or another...only 8% of Union Members work outside of Local, State and Federal Governments... and 75% of that 8% are workers in the service industry, with average hourly pay rates under $11.00 per hour!

  • (Show?)

    Kevin and anyone else who wants to help pass the EFCA, please contact me at the Oregon AFL-CIO. Thanks.

  • Deb (unverified)

    I have worked both as a supervisor and as a member of a union. I have seen good management and bad. The bad ones truely make unions necessary. I have seen managers target and attack individuals directly and covertly.

    I have seen one position eliminated to get rid of a person and then recreated a few months later and given to another person.

    I have seen a 20 year employee (one year from qualifying for retirement) accused inacurately of 17 violations of work instructions. After every accusation was proven false the supervisor was promoted. If it had not been for the representation by her union steward the employee would have lost her job and her oppertunity to retire.

    It is critical that people have protection from this sort of harassment. Union representation protects individuals from unreasonable actions by some managers and supervisors.

    It is my wish that this kind of protection is not necessary in the future because all workers are treated fairly and justly. Until the ideal world is achieved we need unions to protect individuals from unfair and unjust treatment in the workplace.

  • John (unverified)


    A lot of GOP commentators prefer secret elections...pretty soon they'll have the NLRB outsource the elections to Diebold so they're won't even be a paper trail.

    "Sorry the workers voted against unionizing. What's that? The election isn't until tomorrow? Oh, call me back then." -NLRB spokesperson from the near future

  • El Rudy (unverified)

    In this day of Globalization, workers are sore pressed to gain a foothold on the economic staircase. As wages are eroded by outsourcing and downsizing and the Healthcare disaster in our once "Unionized" Nation, we descend into the pits of poverty, we as workers deserve the Human Need to represent ourselves to the owners and managers of the business machine. It is written well that "HUMAN NEEDS BECOME HUMAN RIGHTS WHEN THEY NEED TO BE DEFENDED" I will defend my right to Organize and represent my fellow workers with all my strength and resources until the day I lay me down to draw my last breath. Let's get this nation back on track and regain the Working Class Pride in the U.S.A. Get The Votes Out

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