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Michael Moore has a post up on Daily Kos in honor of Labor Day (it went up yesterday, I’m seeing it today). It’s really a must-read. The piece is a response to reports of Steven Rattner’s book & a story wherein White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said “Fuck the UAW” when discussing the auto bailouts. Moore makes the case that Emanuel’s disrespect of one of the America’s great unions – the United Auto Workers – is unacceptable, particularly for the work the labor movement in America has done to create and sustain the middle class. In turn, Moore calls for Emanuel and the White House to do more to protect American jobs. It’s intemperate, but Moore is right: we need to do more to value working Americans, protect their jobs, and punish the people who destroyed our economy.
The New York Times has a bizarrely hagiographic piece today on Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey, which owns the Upper Big Branch mine. Blankenship’s mine suffered the largest disaster in American mining in decades, costing over 25 workers their lives. Rescue operations are ongoing, but Blankenship is in full spin mode and the Times praises his efforts to not have as large of a bullseye on his chest as he should. The Times piece raises up his anti-union efforts and largely ignores the repeated safety violations and cavalier attitude towards safety that Blankenship displayed leading to this tragedy.
Blankenship is an avid climate change denier and has spent more than his fare share of time as a rightwing political funder and Teaparty agitator with the Chamber of Commerce. Perhaps if he spent more time focusing on the safety and rights of his employees, and less being a political hack, this disaster could have been prevented.
Moreover, it’s downright offensive to praise this chump’s union busting savvy and personal professional successes while the bodies of his miners have yet to be put in the ground. Stories like this don’t happen on their own and it’s hard to doubt that Blankenship and the Massey PR team placed it to improve his public image now.
Jonathan Chait at TNR makes a good observation:
But the general portrait of Blankenship is a figure utterly contemptuous of anything that stands in the way of profits. The risks of a business strategy that places low wages above experienced workers and disdains regulation are fairly clear. The Forbes profile emphasizes the risks to Blankenship’s stock value, but of course the costs imposed upon workers and the environment are even greater.
Blankenship must be held to account for these costs, as should his company. Being an ambitious businessman does not obviate him from culpability in at least twenty-five deaths.
No nation has ever been home to a middle-class majority absent a sizable labor movement. In their failure to advance labor’s prospects, the Democrats condemn themselves to a future of fewer Democratic voters and their nation to a future of mass downward mobility.
Harold Meyerson is right – it’s about damned time Democrats were responsive to the needs of working Americans in labor unions. Meyerson points out that Carter, Clinton and now Obama have all turned their back on labor’s key legislative and policy needs. And to what end? A declining labor movement, a declining middle class, and a reduction in benefits for American workers. Political timidity is, in this case, a clear recipe for economic failure in America.
Moreover, labor is a key constituency for the Democratic Party and one that is ignored at their own peril. I’ve made the case in the past that the primary reasons Democrats won big in 2006 was because of labor’s bodies for field turnout and voting and the netroots messaging in opposition to Republicans. While labor’s war chest is a fraction of what big business brings to the political table, it is still the biggest constituent of the Democratic coalition. At a time when Democrats political prospects for 2010 don’t look good, giving the middle finger to one of your political firewalls is not a good idea.
This is only tangentially related to labor policy, but Mike Rowe’s talk about work and working at TED is really powerful. Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, challenges many of our common assumptions about work in American life. Rowe has more about his take on work at MikeRoweWorks.com.
Paul Begala has an incredibly powerful and persuasive op-ed in Politico today making the case for the Employee Free Choice Act. After introducing nightmare hypothetical scenarios of workers getting fired for trying to organize, Begala pulls back the curtain and reveals the stories are about real workers who were fighting for better jobs.
All of these stories are absolutely true. The stories of Trish Miechur, the CNA, and Corey Kresse, the metalworker, are replicated in boardrooms and factories across America. The story of Ken Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO? Well, that’s a familiar one, too. So here’s the question: Why are their experiences so different? Whom do we want our economic policies to benefit?
For eight years under the GOP, economic policy gave CEOs such as Ken Lewis the gold mine, while giving hardworking, middle-class Americans such as Trish and Corey the shaft. President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress were elected to change that, and protecting employees from corporate abuses is part of the change we need. That’s what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.
Corporate lobbyists say the phrase “Employee Free Choice Act” as though it were a curse. But for Trish and Corey, it’s a blessing. The point of the Employee Free Choice Act is to say that we’ve had enough of an economy that works for Ken Lewis — and Bernie Madoff, for that matter. We want an economy that works for Trish Miechur and Corey Kresse.
The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers an opportunity to bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and health care at a time of astounding corporate greed. The legislation has three main parts: 1) It says that when a majority of workers want to form a union, a real path is provided for them to do so — a path chosen by workers, not corporate special interests; 2) it penalizes employers who try to fire or harass workers for attempting to form a union; and 3) it says that once workers have voted for a union, employers have to come to agreement with workers on a contract. Simple stuff, right?
So why are corporate interests squealing like a pig stuck under a gate? Maybe because they’re the only ones who prospered under the Bush-Lewis-Madoff policies.
As of now, it’s unclear when the Employee Free Choice Act will be given a vote in Congress. Recent press stories, based largely around anonymous comments from Democratic aides, has suggested that it is unlikely the bill will get a vote any time soon and especially not prior to the completion of healthcare reform. But legislative delays don’t diminish the moral and economic imperative for sweeping labor reform and as a result, we must continue to call on Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act with majority sign-up. As Begala notes, this popular piece of legislation will get America’s economy moving again, so we have no time to lose.
In a rhetorical flourish sure to peeve his political opponents, Senator Arlen Specter says his views on the Employee Free Choice Act have been “consistent, and suggestions to the contrary by those intending to run against me are incorrect.”
Indigo Montoya responds on Specter’s use of the word “consistent”:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
To be clear, Specter was a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 while he was a Republican. Earlier this year, he voiced objections to the legislation, which was identical to what he had previously cosponsored, on the grounds that he did not like the majority sign-up provisions. For Specter to say he has been “consistent” on Employee Free Choice and not immediately become a cosponsor of the legislation is laughable. He hasn’t been consistent and it is his lack of consistency that can be pointed to as a major cause that this important piece of reform legislation has stalled.
A great piece by a single mom and Army veteran in support of the Employee Free Choice Act is running today in the Anchorage Daily News.
In Maine’s Bangor Daily News, Mike Allen, an Air Force veteran and union letter carrier, writes in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act. In the course of an incredibly powerful telling of his father’s history and his history as union members and the benefits they received by being part of the union, Allen puts forth a key point: citizens are allowed to join the military with their signature and ought to be able to form a union with the same.
Honoring the brave men and women who serve our country starts with fighting for an economy that works for everyone. They should have the same opportunities I have had. It is no surprise that the decline of the middle class can be linked to the decline of unions in America. One solution to making sure workers can level the playing field is by giving them the opportunity to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits. If we continue down the path we have followed for the past 30 years, the middle class will quickly disappear.
I support the Employee Free Choice Act because if enacted, it would let workers form a union when a simple majority of workers in the workplace sign cards indicating they want one instead of going through a company-controlled process.
In the Air Force we had a saying for complainers: “You signed your name on the dotted line.” Each of us knew what we were doing when we joined up. If my signature was good enough to serve in our military, it should be good enough to be honored by my government and employer when I sign up to join a union.
America’s veterans have sacrificed much to protect our way of life. We honor them not by valuing the short-term greed of CEOs more than long-term economic health of the middle class. Working families power our economy, and working families are struggling now more than ever to make ends meet.
Allen’s whole piece is worthy of attention. Maine’s two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, are key votes that could possibly determine whether or not there is meaningful labor reform in this Congress. I’d hope that Collins’ and Snowe’s offices put his words in front of them as just the latest piece of evidence that should compel them to support Employee Free Choice.