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Teabaggers Are To Congresspeople What Union-Busters Are To Workers

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After reading an article by Chris Townsend the other day, I noticed the the strong similarities between union busting and the tactics of teabaggers — namely, how they suppress, intimidate, and delay action at all costs. They both rely on intimidating people to the point where there is no longer any space left to make any logical argument.

From Chris Townsend, who started off his career as union activist thirty years ago as a garbageman in Upstate New York and thirty years later is continuing to take out the trash in Washington, D.C. as Political Action Director for United Electrical Workers (UE):

House and Senate Democrats should know that what they are now witnessing in their meetings is nothing more than what hundreds of thousands of working people are subjected to every year when they try to join a union. The only difference is that working people are forced to endure months of intimidation, lies, disruption, and chaos – and frequently termination from their jobs — when they try to exercise their right to join a union. The Democrats should be glad that they are only forced to tolerate a few hours of this corporate attack.

Think about the hell that these Congressman are going through at these meetings and then think about what workers must experience when they try to join unions. You’d be folding the way Democrats are folding on the public option if you feared losing your job in the same way.

Bosses and union busting consultants rely on threats to intimidate and coerce people. In 57% of all union drives they threaten to close factories, but only close them 2% of the time. Indeed, they do fire workers in about 34% of all union drives just to intimidate the rest of the works.

From Townsend:

When workers try to join a union today in the private sector, in almost every case the boss goes into action; he hires a lawyer to delay, and then he hires a union busting consultant to launch the legal and illegal counterattack. The boss never admits to this, however, and claims throughout that he just wants everyone to have a “secret ballot” election someday to settle things fair and square.

Hmm sound familiar? We just need some more time to make sure we do this right? Isn’t this what Republican and their corporate allies Blue Dogs in Congress did last month hoping to buy some time so they could get to the rough intimidation sessions of August. Townsend goes on to explain:

The boss and [union busting] consultant then turn the workplace upside down — just like they are doing in the town hall format — with their contrived chaos and terror. They lie, misrepresent, instill fear, generate chaos, and completely muddy the waters with their sophisticated and unsophisticated tactics at the same time. And not satisfied to browbeat workers in a group setting.

The boss and his [union busting] consultant then subject workers to one-on-one interrogation and humiliation sessions all intended to make it clear to the worker that voting “no” is their only option. By the time the “secret ballot” election rolls around the damage is done. Confused and terrorized workers then vote “no” and against joining the union. Their desire or need for a union does not matter any more. The laws protecting the worker don’t matter because they are rarely enforced. By election day workers just hope to just have some sense of normalcy returned to their workplaces after the bosses contrived turbulence has run its course.

Sounds exactly what members of Congress are experiencing right now. They are being threatened in completely safe districts by opponents using lies and violent outbursts to scare them into voting against the public option. Townsend goes on to wonder what would happen if they held an election:

We suggest that they go so far as to conduct a “secret ballot” election after their meeting has been destroyed by the current crop of disruptors, and then we’ll ask them how legitimate they think the results are. Democrats must learn this lesson; the operators storming the town hall meetings are interested in killing-off all reform efforts, and they will do or say or raise a stink any way they have to in order to win. Because just like in the world of the anti-union consultants, they know full well that when the confusion and terror has run its course, large numbers of people who were formerly in favor of health care reform might not be in favor of it anymore.

Free and fair elections don’t exist in the workplace in America because of the intimidation and lies that employers use against their workers. Studies have shown that 60 percent of workers want to join a union if they were able to but only 8 percent of private sector employees are members of unions. I don”t know how conservative can claim an election could be considered democratic if you have to choice between your job and voting your conscience.

These teabag protests have showed to the nation what conservatives and their corporate bedfellows consider “democracy”. Democracy for the corporate right wing is “You Shut Up or I’ll Destroy You”. The Corporate Right Wing and their allies engage in lies because if they told the truth that they were putting people before profits, nobody would support them.Teabag protests have demonstrated their form of democracy. Democracy to the corporate right wing is the so called secret ballot union elections in which 1 in 5 workers lose their job.

What they are really creating is climate of fear in which no logical argument can be made. My experience as a union organizer has taught me that the only way to counter these types of arguments is to fight fire with fire. If 10 protesters show up at a town hall to shout lies about “killing grandma”, we need to show up with 100 protesters to stop the smears and shout about how lack of health care is killing us all.

It’s time to stand up and be counted that’s the only way to win. Please go to Campaign for America’s Future website to see how you can attend your town hall meeting.

Mike Elk: is a third-generation union organizer and worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). He works currently as an editor at AlterNet.

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post on August 19, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Employee Free Choice Act: Good for Everyone

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With the election of a new president, there naturally is a lot of talk about what legislation we might expect from the Obama administration and substantial Democratic majority in Congress.  High on everyone’s list is the Employee Free Choice Act — a bill that would make it easier for workers to form and join unions.  But perhaps you are not convinced that unions are the solution to making things better for workers, either in your workplace or any workplace.  Guess what:  you should support the Employee Free Choice Act anyway, and here’s why:

The specter of EFCA passage has a lot of employers — and their advisors — running scared.  Right now, employers who strongly oppose having unions in their workplace can hire specialists — let’s call them “unionbusters,” since that’s what they are — to use all legal and often illegal means to discourage workers from union organizing activity.  Guest blogger Art Levine, in an article published last year called Unionbusting Confidential, talked about the strategies he learned about while attending one of the many seminars that law firms sponsor for employers who want to remain union-free:

What if we felt like saying a lot of anti-union stuff to our workers? [The presenter Michael] Lotito introduced a segment called “You Can Say It.” Could we tell our workers, for instance, that a union had held strike at a nearby facility only to find that all the strikers had been replaced—and that the same could happen to the employees here? Sure, said Lotito. “It’s lawful.” He added, “What happens if this statement is a lie? They didn’t have another strike, there were no replacements? It’s still lawful: The labor board doesn’t really care if people are lying.”

(See Unionbusting Confidential.) (Note: Obama’s appointments to the labor board (NLRB) might care a little more about employers’ lies than those appointed by George W. Bush, but I digress.)

However, some of the tactics unionbusters use to discourage union organizing simply aren’t going to fly under EFCA.  Refusing to bargain is one of the tactics described by Levine, where employers say “I’m not inclined to agree to that proposal at this time” when they do not intend to agree to any proposal at any time.  This strategy will be countered by a provision that allows either side to request mediation after 90 days with the sides at an impasse.  (See Why Mediation and Arbitration Rules are Needed.)

One of the most egregious strategies, firing workers for union organizing, will also be penalized more heavily.  Levine writes that employers are being advised,

[Firing workers] was possible to do, said [Michael Stief of Jackson Lewis], as long as you were careful to do so for other reasons. “Union sympathizers aren’t entitled to any more protection than other workers,” he explained. But the firing could not be linked to their union activity.

One survey estimates that employees are fired in up to 25% of organizing efforts.  (See Why Stronger Penalties are Needed.)  EFCA increases the damages due to fired workers to three times their back pay, and allows employees to go to court to enjoin their employers from taking punitive actions.

But what really makes EFCA a win-win for everyone?  It’s that with the real threat of unionization, employers are going to be forced to make their workplaces better — to convince their employees that they don’t need unions. As one management lawyer recently pointed out, apparently with no sense of irony,

Making nonunion workplaces better for employees could be the real unintended consequence of the Employee Free Choice Act.

(See How Employers Can Mitigate ‘Card Check.’) (Hat tip to Matt Stoller of Open Left.)

This lawyer is encouraging employers to develop programs now “that will be better than
anything a union could provide, including steps to increase employee involvement and to allow peer resolution of disputes.”  Steps to increase employee involvement?  Allowing peer resolution of disputes?  All at a level better than unions? Those things all sound pretty good to me, and just maybe, they weren’t merely an “unintended consequence.”

According to Levine, unionbusters are already advising their employers to “institute an open-door policy with employees, encouraging them to air any grievances or concerns fully.”  Because it’s the right thing to do?  Not really — it’s so they can “sniff out whether there was unionization afoot.”  But what if they had to do it for real?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if employers and unions were finally engaged in a race to the top, instead of to the bottom?  If the realities of competition made both the employer and the union be at the top of their games when making working conditions more hospitable? If workers finally had the upper hand when it comes to a more democratic and fair workplace?

Let’s put the unionbusters to work actually trying to make the workplace better.  If they really believe that unions are bad for business, then they’re going to have to convince their employees that they’re genuinely willing to go the extra mile to make things better for their workers — farther than a union is likely to go.  If they can’t make that case, then employees will finally have a real shot at forming a union and empowering themselves that way.

Either way, with EFCA’s passage, we have an unprecedented opportunity to get rid of some of the imbalances that currently exist.  Because in this economic climate, with employers already laying off employees left and right, workers are otherwise going to be even more powerless, and the unionbusters even more empowered to ensure that employers don’t feel the sting like their workers do.

One Million Signatures for the Employee Free Choice Act:  add your signature today!

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