Members of Congress soon will cast votes that show us where they stand on the Employee Free Choice Act. As key senators engage in negotiations over the bill, supporters of workers’ freedom to form unions aren’t backing down on three key principles:
* Workers need to have a real choice to form a union and bargain for a better life, free from intimidation.
* We have to stop the endless delays and make sure workers can get a fair first contract.
* There have to be real penalties for violating the law.
Over the past few months, opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have more than once declared the bill dead, but in fact we’re still working hard to to ensure labor law reform happens this year. We’ve come along way from where we were several years ago.
Here’s a timeline from 2003, when the AFL-CIO Executive Council offered a resolution in support of labor law reform, to yesterday’s seating of Sen. Al Franken, whose first move was to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.
- Feb. 26, 2003: The AFL-CIO Executive Council approves a resolution, “An Unprecedented Labor Movement Campaign in Support of the Freedom of Workers to Choose a Voice at Work,” which declares the union movement’s intention to do what is necessary for:
…legal reform that protects the free and fair choice of employees to form a union without interference from management and enables more workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining.
- Nov. 21, 2003: Rep. George Miller introduces H.R. 3169, the Employee Free Choice Act, in the House. Sen. Edward Kennedy introduces the same bill as S. 1925 in the Senate. Both were denied a committee vote by the Republican majority.
- Dec. 10, 2003: Tens of thousands of union members, elected officials, religious leaders and community activists across the nation took part in more than 90 events in 72 cities, united by one message: Workers’ rights are human rights. The nationwide mobilization is the first in a series of annual actions in support of the Employee Free Choice Act held on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
- April 19, 2005: Miller introduces the Employee Free Choice Act as H.R. 1696 in the House and Kennedy introduces it as S. 842 in the Senate. Again, both bills are blocked by the Republican majority and don’t receive a committee vote.
- Dec. 10, 2005: Thousands of union members rally across the country in support of the workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain to commemorate International Human Rights Day.
- Nov. 7, 2006: In the 2006 congressional elections, the union movement makes big strides in electing pro-working family, pro-Employee Free Choice Act candidates, with new pro-worker majorities in both the House and Senate.
- Dec. 8-9, 2006: The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act takes center stage at the AFL-CIO Organizing Summit.
- Feb 5, 2007: Miller introduces H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, in the House.
- March 29, 2007: Kennedy introduces S. 1041, the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 in the Senate.
- March 1, 2007: U.S. House passes the Employee Free Choice Act in a 241-185 vote.
- June 26, 2007: U.S. Senate votes 51-48 for cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow it to be considered for a simple majority vote on the Senate floor. Unfortunately, 60 votes were required for cloture (agreement to vote on a bill), so a Republican minority in the Senate was able to block consideration of the bill.
- March 4, 2008: The union movement kicks off the Million Member Mobilization campaign to gather support for the Employee Free Choice Act.
- Nov. 4, 2008: Despite a desperate multi-million dollar corporate campaign against pro-worker candidates, the union movement wages its most successful-ever political mobilization campaign, helping to elect even more working-family friendly lawmakers to the House and Senate and Barack Obama, a Senate co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, to the White House.
- Feb. 4, 2009: Union members and allies deliver some of the 1.5 million signatures they’ve gathered in support of the Employee Free Choice Act to Capitol Hill—exceeding the goals of the Million Member Mobilization campaign.
- March 10, 2009: Employee Free Choice Act introduced in the House (as H.R. 1409), with 225 co-sponsors, and as S. 560 in the Senate, with 41 co-sponsors.
In short, we’ve pursued this critical legislative since Bush ran the nation along with a Republican Senate majority in Congress, until today, when our nationwide political mobilization resulted in the election of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and appointment of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, all of whom expressed support for the bill.
As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff noted at a Netroots Nation event last month, it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. But the opposition is well-funded and aggressive, and the broad coalition supporting the Employee Free Choice Act will need to fight harder than ever to make sure we get labor law reform that helps workers:
We started this six years ago, and I thought it was going to be a 20-year fight. We’ve accomplished so much in the face of such attacks, and all the money they’ve been able to spend has not been able to break it.
The campaign is vibrant and active, and all the forces of corporate America can’t stop it—and they’ve tried everything in their playbook.
Seth Michaels: Seth D. Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.
This article was originally posted at the AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.