Workers Need a Level Playing Field


Today’s guest blog is by Mary Beth Maxwell, executive director of American Rights at Work and speaker at our May7-8 conference.

These are hard times for U.S. working families. We are suffering the highest inflation rates in over 20 years. Oil prices today rose to over $118 a barrel, up nearly 80 percent in a year. As Steven Greenhouse’s new book The Big Squeeze documents, working families are getting squeezed while oil companies make record profits.

Americans are rightfully asking a simple question – why does our government continue to dole out corporate subsidies in these tough economic times?

We’ve seen thousands of jobs shipped overseas by the same companies who receive taxpayer-funded corporate welfare. The sub-prime shenanigans of Wall Street have cost thousands of working men and women their piece of the American Dream. Wages have remained stagnant despite surging inflation, and employers continue to prevent workers from achieving their economic goals.

Although workers can’t always rely on their employer to give them fair pay for a hard day’s work, they can count on union representation to fight on their behalf. That’s what most employers want their workers to forget — just ask employees of the retail food industry, where union members earn 31 percent more than non-union employees. Overall, unionized grocers contribute more than twice as much to health insurance premiums and pension coverage than non-union chains.

Corporate giants like Wal-Mart pay their workers poverty wages and then have state governments subsidize their corporate irresponsibility through public assistance programs. The unionbusting retail giant will stop at nothing to prevent its employees from getting a fair shake –that’s why workers in the United States need laws that level the playing field.

That’s why the Employee Free Choice Act is vital. Set to be reintroduced in Congress next year, the bill will give workers a more direct path to freely and fairly form a union if they so choose. Since employers often resist organizing campaigns with illegal tactics to intimidate and scare workers, this legislation will also hold anti-union employers accountable for violating federal labor laws through tougher penalties and greater enforcement.

That is, if lawmakers have the conviction to pass the legislation. While the Employee Free Choice Act overwhelmingly passed the House this session, Republican leadership in the Senate killed the bipartisan bill there. Members of Congress will soon have the opportunity to hear from Americans wanting their elected leaders to take another step toward income parity through passage of this legislation. While corporate subsidies run amuck and the cost of necessities like rent, gas, and health care continue to rise, working families can’t afford another stalemate of this critical bill in Congress next year.

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