SEIU Convention: Anna Burger On The Employee Free Choice Act

Earlier this morning, Anna Burger, the Secretary-Treasurer of SEIU, spoke to the convention and I wanted to highlight her comments about The Employee Free Choice Act in particular. There is a fairly effective ad campaign on the air right now that is framing the The Employee Free Choice Act as "anti-worker privacy" and uses a Sopranos character to fear-monger about what passing The Employee Free Choice Act would mean for workers. So where's the pro-Employee Free Choice Act ad campaign? Hmm, good question. They simply haven't found the right message yet but there is an acknowledgment that there needs to be one and fast. It is a complex issue, one that's not easily broken down into a one line concept or sound byte and it's hard to explain to people why they should care. Anna Burger today made as good a case as I've ever heard for why we should all care about its passage.

What would the Employee Free Choice Act accomplish?

The Employee Free Choice Act is a simple law that does 3 profound things:

  • It says a majority of workers can decide to have a union
  • Imposes big penalties on employers who violate worker rights, and
  • Gives newly-unionized workers guaranteed first contract through binding arbitration

No government interference. No corporate intimidation. No ridiculous rules and roadblocks set up to block your rights.

And the key reason it is so important:

It is the fuel -- the opening -- for SEIU to change our growth curve from 100,000 to a million or more workers a year.

That in itself, Burger argues, makes the Employee Free Choice Act larger than any one single issue, even more important than healthcare.

We are the leaders of the fight for healthcare. We are the biggest healthcare union in our three nations because we fight for it every single day. It's time that the United States and Perto Rico join our sisters and brothers in Canda and win quality, affordable healthcare for every man, woman and child in 2009!

Let's be straight: we need political leadership, not petty arguments.

We need fundamental change, not incremental thinking.

We demand action.

Healthcare is critical, but having the freedom to join a union -- that's transformational.

The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, Burger argues, will make the difference between incremental change and transformational change, because it will allow the creation of a movement that will not only demand that change, but enable it. So, the Employee Free Choice Act is more important than healthcare because without it, there is no healthcare reform, or at least not the real reform we want and need. Same goes for every other progressive legislation we hope to pass in the post-Bush era.

Imagine a world where five years after the Employee Free Choice Act is signed into law, SEIU is organizing a million or more workers a year and the labor movement has added 20 million members to its ranks. Through the Employee Free Choice Act we've built a principled, permanent workers movement that will redefine politics for the next century.

Then just imagine what our movement could do:

  • A real living wage for every single worker
  • Healthcare for every child, guaranteed from birth
  • Guaranteed retirement security
  • Quality child care everyone can afford
  • A tax system that rewards work
  • An immigration system that is fair to everyone, everywhere, always
  • Environmental policy that puts our planet and our children first.

Forever.

She's sort of making a process argument here, one that works in a labor setting since it celebrates the power of workers as a movement. How to make the average voter understand how important it is is another question entirely and represents one of the challenges the progressive movement faces.

(disclosure: SEIU is paying for my travel expenses to be here to cover their convention)

Tags: Employee Free Choice Act, seiu convention (all tags)

Comments

6 Comments

Free Choice Act

We need to use the truth to frame this issue.  The Free Choice Act is necessary because employers use the time between the announcment of an NLRB election and the election itself to instill fear in the workers about what a union vote would mean.  This is done by (a) firing lots of union sympathizers and organizers - since all the NLRB can do is order re-instatement without any punitive damages and (b) telling workers that the employer is likely to close up shop if the union becomes the bargaining agent.  

by Ephus 2008-06-03 09:05AM | 0 recs
The Employee Free Choice Act

This is the key measure to grow unions.  Both Obama and Clinton support it.  A Democratic president will sign it.  We need a filibuster proof senate.  

by TomP 2008-06-03 09:25AM | 0 recs
Okay, but there are some real questions about the

real world application of this law, should it become that.

If all you have is card signing, how can you validate signatures?  Won't this just result in more legal challenges from corporations who have way more money to fight these than a union does?

Without the privacy of a ballot, aren't employees subject to intimidation from all sides now that there vote is public?

What about competing unions - how is this addressed?  With no NLRB, do you now have total anarchy in the workplace with multiple card signings by one employee?  

How do you keep companies from deliberately tainting the ballot pool to call into question the legitimacy of the votes?  There are so many ways that I can see this being tied up in court so as to drag the process out so that companies can still work to avoid being unionized.

Although there is no longer a period of time whereby the corporations can run campaigns against the union, they also are not subject to the limitations and guidelines imposed once a petition is filed.  As a result, workplaces could become essentially a "perpetual campaign" against the unions, or worse yet, a chaotic mess with no outside regulatory entity able to police the asylum.

I do not currently work in a union shop but am in executive management at a fortune 500 and these are the things I think about.  I am very supportive of the union movement and will not let anyone but an IBEW touch my building or home - personal bias, I think they train and employ the best and are a very respectable and value added apprentice program that makes me feel that I get what I pay for in their professionals.  I'm not alone, either.

I wonder if this represents a better model for unions to grow the movement and membership.  Personally, and the unions don't pay me for advice, but I believe the best way for unions to grow their membership is to become a part of the profit center of a business, and not just the cost center.  Companies spend thousands, and larger ones spend millions, on atty's and labor professionals just to negotiate a contract, let alone preventing a contract.  What company would not want to transfer that money to the bottom line if they could?  Not withstanding the truly awful companies that don't deserve to have employees and should close up shop, most companies want good relationships with their employees because that's what drives productivity and revenue.  So why not offer a value added service to the company, as well as the employees?

This is why many businesses I know 'choose' voluntarily to work and partner with the IBEW - they ADD value because business knows that it would cost them more to produce the quality of worker that you get through the union.  Does it cost more?  You bet.  Is it worth it?  You bet.  Not to mention, they are just a rock solid, well managed organization in our area.

Most of the workers organizing today are minorities, including immigrants.  These demographics, and the dynamics of the mix therein, are the source of unique challenges to managers not experienced with the unique cultural issues and make a union an attractive option to employees.  Why not become a source of "workforce education and management" for companies so as to allow them to take full advantage of this talent pool while filling some of the gaps that exist in HR and internal management as it relates to cultural diversity and workforce management.  The union is in such a sweet spot as it relates to the needs of business that if we could get past the 'old' ideas of antagonistic bargaining and "employer=bad" and move toward a model of joint success, then we can begin to grow the corporate revenue pie that will allow everyone to get more as opposed to trying to further divide a shrinking revenue pie knowing that there's only so much to go around.

Sorry for droning on, I am truly just not sure I understand how this is wholly a good plan for employees or employers - and like it or not, both must win for there to be job growth in the states.  I understand what it strives to achieve, but I am just not sure that simply eliminating the role of the NLRB does that.

by ILean Left 2008-06-03 10:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Concerns

Card check is the law in Canada.  We are not talking about getting rid of the NLRB or anything like that.  We are talking about changing a system where management can refuse to recognize a union that has the support of a majority of its employees in the hopes that they can intimidate and fire enough union supporters to win an NLRB election.

by Ephus 2008-06-03 11:28AM | 0 recs
And outside the convention...

Puerto Rican teachers continue their protest encampment.  Here's one TV story about it, which yesterday was covered by Labor Notes and others, and there are other reports I'm gathering.

This is a dispute about union democracy, and about American colonialism.  The Puerto Rican teachers were on strike in 2007 against terrible education system, and SEIU went behind their back to cut a deal with the Island's governor allowing to try to raid the teachers union and roll them into the more docile principal's union.  

This is a travesty, and attacking a union under strike this way is outrageous, and another example of SEIU attacking progressive unions to further its own growth.

by California Nurses Shum 2008-06-03 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: SEIU Convention: Anna Burger On The Employee F

Unions protect worker and human rights, provide health care and decent wages and give workers a voice and respect on the job.  Having a union makes me feel safe.  Unions are key to the middle class.  I've been a member for 36 years, I consider myself very fortunate and lucky to have a union job and I hope that EFCA becomes a reality so that all workers can enjoy the benefits of union membership.  All people who work deserve to have a union, and that's what we're fighting for with this legislation.  We have to bring justice to all working people and passing EFCA is one strong step in the right direction.

by seiudelegate 2008-06-03 11:32AM | 0 recs

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