Will workers be given the choice the law provides? Might they act on a right that has was enforced seventy years ago? Will we as a nation continue to allow employers to deny citizens their Constitutional right to speak? Can we stand by while laborers are arbitrarily punished for asserting their rights?
Can we in good conscious continue to allow employers to eliminate pensions and other benefits? Must workers accept reduced wages, longer hours, and less consideration without discussion? Will grown men and women be dismissed from their place of employ if they try to increase security in the workplace? Will we as a nation permit employers to seek retribution, religiously, if an employee tries to organize? We have. Hundreds of thousands of workers were punished for attempting to unionize. Today, we must ask, ''Why does an adult man cry when he speaks of his job.' Representative George Miller tells us.
Chairman Miller Floor Statement On The Employee Free Choice Act Thursday, March 1, 2007Ultimately, after a glorious speech such as this, the House did approve the Employee Free Choice Act. This Legislation Would Strengthen America's Middle Class by Helping Workers Bargain for Better Pay, Benefits. However, as I share that statement I acknowledge that many disagree. Some see Unions as another big business. I appreciate that there have been abuses. Yet, I trust as Aesop shared in his fable Bundle of Sticks, "Union gives Strength."
WASHINGTON, DC -- Below are the prepared remarks of Rep. George Miller (D-CA) for today's debate on the Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 800. Miller, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, is the sponsor of the legislation. The House will be voting on the bill later today.
We all know that workers in the U.S. are among the most productive workers in the world. Yet, for far too long, they have not been reaping the benefits of their hard work.
For years and years now, many workers have found themselves working harder and harder just to stay in place. And many more have been losing ground financially despite their work.
This is troubling enough on its own. But what makes it even more troubling is that, over the last several years, our economy has been growing. The stock market is doing well. Corporate profits are high.
Consider the facts.
Since 2001, median household income has fallen by $1,300. Wages and salaries now make up their lowest share of the economy in nearly six decades.
The number of Americans who lack health insurance has grown by 6.8 million since 2001, to 46.6 million, a shocking record high.
The number of Fortune 1000 companies that have frozen or terminated their pension plans has more than tripled since 2001.
Indeed, the middle class itself has shrunk. Over 4 million more Americans have joined the ranks of the poor since 2001.
And meanwhile, corporate profits make up their largest share of the economy since the 1960s.
Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of explanations for the growing inequality in our economy. Congress' failure to raise the minimum wage for 10 long years is an obvious example. But perhaps the most significant explanation is that workers' rights to join together and bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions have been severely undermined.
Today, when workers want to form a union, their employers can force them to undergo a National Labor Relations Board election process. That process is broken, because it allows irresponsible employers to harass, coerce, intimidate, reassign, and even fire workers who support a union.
Take the example of Ivo Camilo. Mr. Camilo is from Sacramento, not far from my district. For 35 years, he worked for at a Blue Diamond Growers plant in Sacramento. In 2004, and he several dozen coworkers sought to form a union. For that, Mr. Camilo was fired. After 35 years of service, Blue Diamond tossed Mr. Camilo out on the street, just because he wanted a union.
The same thing happened to Keith Ludlum when he supported union representation for him and his coworkers at a Smithfield foods plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Mr. Ludlum, a veteran of the first Gulf War, was fired in 1994 because he wanted a union. It took him 12 years of litigation to get his job back.
What happened to Mr. Camilo and Mr. Ludlum happens with distressing frequency in this country. In 2005 alone, over 30,000 workers were receiving back pay from employers that had committed unfair labor violations.
Earlier this year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that employers fire one in five workers who actively advocate for a union. A December 2005 study by American Rights at Work found that 49 percent of employers studied had threatened to close or relocate all or part of the business if workers elected to form a union.
And Human Rights Watch has said, "[F]reedom of association is a right under severe, often buckling pressure when workers in the United States try to exercise it."
Corporate executives routinely negotiate lavish compensation packages on their own behalfs, but then they deny their own employees the ability to bargain for a better life.
This debate is about restoring workers' ability to choose for themselves whether or not they want a union. To make that happen, the Employee Free Choice Act does three things.
First, it says that when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing a union, they get a union. The legislation requires the National Labor Relations Board to develop model authorization language and procedures for establishing the validity of signed authorizations.
The legislation does not take away workers' ability to have a National Labor Relations Board election instead of majority sign-up if that's what they want. It gives them the choice. If 30 percent sign cards saying they want a union and petition the Board for an election, they get an election. But, if a majority of workers sign cards saying they want a union and they want recognition now, they get a union.
This majority sign-up is not a new idea. Under current law, when a majority of workers sign cards authorizing a union, then they can have a union if their employer consents to it. But instead of consenting, employers often reject the employees' choice and force them through an NLRB election process that is dramatically tilted in the employer's favor. The Employee Free Choice Act would simply take this veto power away from employers. Under current law, it's the employer's choice that matters. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, it's the employees' choice that matters.
Majority sign-up has a proven track record for reducing coercion and intimidation. In cases where responsible employers, like Cingular Wireless, have permitted their employees to form a union through majority sign-up, both sides have praised the process for increasing cooperation and decreasing tension.
Second, the legislation increases penalties against employers who fire or discriminate against workers for their efforts to form a union or obtain a first contract.
Under current law the National Labor Relations Board is required to seek a federal court injunction against a union whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that the union has violated the secondary boycott prohibitions in the National Labor Relations Act.
Under this legislation, the Board must seek a federal court injunction against an employer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that the employer has discharged or discriminated against employees, threatened to discharge or discriminate against employees, or engaged in conduct that significantly interferes with employee rights during an organizing or first contract drive. The legislation authorizes the courts to grant temporary restraining orders or other appropriate injunctive relief.
Employers found to have discharged or discriminated against employees during an organizing campaign or first contract drive must pay those workers three times back pay, instead of the simple back pay required under current law. Employers found to have willfully or repeatedly violated employees' rights during an organizing campaign or first contract drive would receive civil fines of up to $20,000 per violation.
Under current law, remedies are limited solely to make whole remedies: back pay (minus any additional interim wages the employee did or should have earned), reinstatement, and notice to that the employer will not engage in violations of the National Labor Relations Act. Many employers conclude that, even if caught, it is financially advantageous to violate the law and pay the penalties rather than to comply.
And third, the legislation provides for mediation if an employer and a union are engaged in bargaining for their first contract and are unable to reach agreement within 90 days. After 30 days of mediation, the dispute would be referred to binding arbitration. Under current law, employers have a duty to bargain in good faith, but are under no obligation to reach agreement. As a result, a recent study found that 34 percent of union election victories had not resulted in a first contract.
Mr. Speaker, we have heard a lot of shamefully misleading claims from the critics of this bill. Those critics claim that they have workers' best interests at heart, and that they are trying to protect democracy.
Yet their claims are belied by the fact that some of the nation's leading workers' rights and pro-democracy organizations support this bill, including Human Rights Watch, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the Drum Major Institute among many, many others.
These are organizations that are dedicated to the mission of improving the lives of American workers. I can tell you that if this bill would do the kind of harm that its critics claim it would, then these respected organizations would not be supporting it today.
I want to close by just reminding people how much is at stake here.
We can continue on our nation's current path, where our society grows more and more unequal and polarized. If we stay on the same path, then our middle class will keep getting squeezed, and will struggle to pay for just the basic necessities of life, like housing, healthcare, education, and transportation.
We can stay on that path, or we can go in a new direction. We can ensure that every American worker gets his or her fair share of the benefits of a growing economy.
To strengthen America's middle class, we have got to restore workers' rights to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
After all, union workers earn 30 percent more, on average, than non-union workers. They are much more likely to have retirement and health benefits and paid time off.
I urge all of my colleagues to support H.R. 800 so that we can finally start to reverse the middle class squeeze and create an economy that benefits all Americans.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.
A corporation will not profit for long if producers are discontent. Physical and emotional stress takes a toll. Health care needs and costs are, in part, a reflection of a society that is ill. Laborers breathe life into the marketplace; if we ignore this fact, no one will be fat and happy, not even the employer. A business cannot survive with out staff. A nation will not thrive when employees are treated as enemies.
The floor is open for debate. You may wish to share your experience of Unions. Here, you have the freedom to speak without reprisal.
References for your review . . .