President Obama knows the value of unions to the American economy and to American workers. He has forcefully spoken in support of workers organizing to improve their lives and staunchly supported the Employee Free Choice Act. But even a popular president has to count votes. Today he spoke again on the Employee Free Choice Act and while admitting the votes may not be there for passage in its present form, he spoke of the need to reestablished balance to the workplace.
At a town hall meeting today in Rio Rancho, N.M. the President spoke about the bill and the vital role unions play in a strong economy. He said that, “one of the things that I believe in, and if you look at our history, I think it bears this out – even if you’re not a member of a union, you owe something to unions, because a lot of the things that you take for granted as an employee of a company, the idea of overtime and minimum wage and benefits, a whole host of things that you, even if you’re not a member of a union, now take for granted, that happened because unions fought and helped to make employers more accountable.”
In addressing declining union membership he admits that it, “…has declined significantly over the last 30 years. And so the question is why is that? Now part of it, the economy has changed. The culture has changed. There hasn’t been a very friendly politics in Washington when it comes to union membership. But part of it just has to do with the fact that the scales have been tilted to make it really hard to form a union. so a lot of companies, because they want maximum flexibility, they would rather spend a lot of money on consultants and lawyers to prevent a union from forming than they would just going ahead and having the union and then trying to work with, and collectively, allow workers to collectively bargain..
During the last few decades employers have aggressively opposed the right to organize in their workplaces hiring union busting consultants to place obstacles in the way of workers. Current law doesn’t provide ample protection or penalties for employers creating an atmosphere of fear in the workplace.
Obama believes that a solution is at hand. “So there’s a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act that would try to even out the playing field. And what it would essentially say is that if majority of workers at a company want a union, then they can get a union without delay and some of the monkey business that’s done right now to prevent them from having a union.”
Corporate anti-union front groups have advanced an agenda against the right to organize claiming that the bill would tilt the playing field too far in working people’s favor. Obama addresses these concerns and admits that compromises may be needed to ensure passage.
“Now, I want to give the other side of the argument. businesses object to some of the provisions in the Employee free Choice Act because one of the things that’s in there is something called card check where rather than have a secret ballot and organize a big election, you could simply have enough employees, a majority of employees, check a card and that would then form the union. And the employers argue we need to have a secret ballot. I think that there may be areas of compromise to get this bill done.”
In closing his remarks on the bill Obama reiterates his support and asserts that labor law reform will be passed. “I’m supportive of it. But there aren’t enough votes right now in the Senate to get it passed. And what I think we have to do is to find ways in which the core idea of the Employee Free Choice Act is preserved, which is how do we make it easier for people who want to form a union to at least get a vote and have an even playing field. How do we do that? But at the same time get enough votes to pass the bill. That’s what we’re working on right now. I think it’s going to have a chance at passage but there’s still more work to be done.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington DC Examiner on May 14, 2009. Reprinted with permission of the author.