Monday, June 25, 2007

GOP Gives Employee Free Choice Act Fear-And-Smear Treatment

For anyone remotely paying attention, the Republican party playbook was remarkably minimalist and straightforward for the three or four years after America was attacked on September 11, 2001. Whenever Congressional Republicans got into a jam on almost any issue or found themselves legislatively backed into a corner, they would grab a microphone and yell "9/11, 9/11, 9/11" over and over again. Screaming "terrorists" or "al-Qaeda" repeatedly also worked pretty well until last November when voters saw the emptiness in all of that and tossed them out on their asses.

But apparently the GOP believes their prevailing mind-game of keeping Americans in a constant state of fear and anxiety can also translate into other venues and they're proving it lately with the Employee Free Choice Act (S.1041), which will be front and center in the Senate today.

S.1041, which is cosponsored by 46 Senators, is really pretty simple. It amends the National Labor Relations Act to allow employees to unionize in a more streamlined way if they choose and establishes stronger penalties for violations of the rights of workers seeking to form unions or negotiate first contracts.

Sounds like a good deal, right? The bill would make it easier for workers to get a living wage and decent benefits and, hey, this is America and everything, so who in the world would have a problem with that?

You guessed it -- the same crew that worked like crazy to keep the minimum wage at $5.15 an hour for the rest of our lives or until a Democratic Congress came to town and got a raise passed.

But what's interesting -- or not, if you're accustomed to watching the Republican party's fear-and-smear approach -- is how much concern GOP Senators suddenly seem to have for workers and how afraid they are that employees will lose their right to unionize via secret ballots. And of course, Republicans love to raise the possibility that these poor workers will also be subject to intimidation by big bad union bosses, hell-bent on forcing them into higher wages and better benefits.

The usual GOP suspects came out strong on Friday in debate about the legislation. Here's Mike Enzi (R-WY), who's voted against working families on the minimum wage more times than Mitt Romney changes his political views:
"I am here to voice my strong opposition to the grossly misnamed Employee Free Choice Act. It should be called the Union Intimidation Act.

"For generations, this body has faithfully protected and continually expanded the rights of working men and women. Today, however, the proponents of this legislation would do exactly the opposite and would strip away from working men and women their most fundamental democratic right -- the right to a secret ballot. That is right. This bill would strip away the right to a secret ballot."
Hearing any Republican talking about standing up for the rights of working folks kind of makes you feel a little queasy, doesn't it?

But here's John Cornyn (R-TX) with more:
"Our friends on the other side of the aisle are demanding that the U.S. Government strip workers of the right to a secret ballot when it comes to the decision of whether to join a labor union. As a matter of fact, they have deceptively named this bill the 'Employee Free Choice Act.' This is anything but a matter of employee free choice because it would deny workers the freedom of choice, exposing them to intimidation and manipulation that comes from anything other than a secret ballot. This bill ought to be called the 'Employee NO Choice Act.' It provides opportunities to bully workers into joining labor unions, stripping them of the valuable right to a secret ballot."
While they're really hoping that they can scare the hell out of working Americans by implying that this bill will actually result in them losing rights -- if not being dragged outside and beaten senseless by fictional union thugs -- they are, of course, lying through their capped teeth.

"The Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish the secret election process," said Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in rebutting the GOP's silly claim on Friday. "That would still be available. The bill simply enables workers to form a union through majority signup, if they prefer that method."

Brown is referring to the fact that S.1041 would give workers the ability to bypass a special election -- a process which affords employers a lot of time to themselves come in and intimidate workers into voting against their own self interest -- and agree to unionize based simply on the majority of them signing cards declaring their desire to form a union.

“Opponents of American workers are trafficking in the politics of fear, by grossly mischaracterizing the policies in the Employee Free Choice Act," said Ted Kennedy (D-MA) last week. "They’re afraid to give workers a voice, so they’re obscuring the truth. I think it’s important to set the record straight. The Employee Free Choice Act does one thing – it empowers workers. It gives them the freedom to choose – without fear of intimidation or harassment – whether they want union representation. There’s nothing more fair or democratic than that.”

In fact the Employee Free Choice Act does nothing to change employees’ ability to get a secret-ballot election and only empowers them to choose either option. If they want an election, they can have one or, if they fear employer intimidation, they can go with the majority sign-up allowed by this legislation.

So what do Republicans say when their bogus no-secret-ballot argument is neutered? They yell "socialism!" Here's Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on Friday:
"This bill doesn't give rights to employees; it takes away the rights of employees and replaces them with the rights of union bosses. This bill would more aptly be named the Union Bosses Free Ride Act because it would allow union organizers to skip the efforts of having to convince employees to vote for union representation in secret ballot elections to gain certification as the exclusive bargaining representative.

"It is close to socialism to mandate that the Federal Government, through federally appointed arbitrators, should dictate private sector wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment."
Now it's Red Scare time. That's mighty big talk for a guy like Hatch, whose closest inspection of Marxism probably occurred when he caught Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo in Duck Soup.

The real bottom line is that the only true fear the Employee Free Choice Act should inspire is in Republicans and their wealthy benefactors for whom the notion of paying working men and women a fair wage and helping promote the middle class is like severing a limb.

And a recent study by Peter D. Hart Research Associates shows that 60 million U.S. workers would opt into a union if they could but that those efforts are too often met with intimidation, harassment and retaliation -- all of which this legislation would kill.

"The choice to organize should be left up to workers and workers alone. It should be their free choice,” said Barack Obama (D-IL) in support of the bill last week. "Organized labor helps keep the American middle class intact, and it provides workers with basic guarantees - wages that can raise a family, preventative health care coverage and treatment for the sick, a retirement that is dignified, and working conditions that are safe. It will be working Americans, united and organized, that will help us restore a sense of shared prosperity and security to this nation.”

And for some reason, to Republicans, that's a truly scary thought.