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Broken labor law system

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Sarah Layden's story, "Unite! Hotel Workers Fighting To Unionize" (June 24-July 1), underscores the corruption and failures of the current broken labor law system. Employers know the system is broken and they can get away with breaking the law. There is little enforcement of the law and the penalties are nothing more than a piece of paper saying don't break the law again. Each year one out of every three workers are fired for union activity while over 50 percent are harassed and threatened during the organizing process. Even if the workers vote for union representation the employers can drag out contract negotiations indefinitely, which is where William Selm and his co-workers are in their struggle to organize the downtown Indianapolis hotels. Workers everywhere are losing faith in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to uphold their right to a fair union election process and contract. They know the current system favors the employers.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would be the single most important piece of labor legislation since the Wagner Act was passed during FDR's New Deal. The Wagner Act gave the employees the choice to choose between a secret ballot or card check union election process and the NLRB would automatically recognize the union. The Republican-sponsored Taft-Hartley Act essentially rendered the card check process useless in 1947 and placed more burden on labor unions in organizing new members while giving employers the option to use replacement workers during strikes. EFCA would give workers a choice between a broken system and a system that is proven to work. Federal government workers nationwide and public workers in seven states have the card check process as well as workers in Canada, Scandinavia and Western Europe. Indeed, Wal-mart workers in China have the option of card check. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions won a historic victory in 2007 by successfully negotiating with Wal-mart to allow organizers in each store.

So why do employers in the United States oppose workers collectively bargaining for better wages and working conditions? Conservatives like to point out that businesses can't afford to pay union wages yet we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan every year. The money spent on our military occupation of Iraq could be used to fund universal health care and Social Security for all Americans. Libertarians say that the individual worker should not be forced to pay union dues or abide by stifling union rules and regulations. What kind of world would we live in if everyone was out for their own self interests? It would be a world of social disorder and no progress would be made in negotiating with the employers for wages and benefits. The American labor movement needs to hold the Democratic Party accountable to the workers and keep up the pressure on President Obama to ensure passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and universal health care. The American working class can once again be the envy of the world if we bring the democratic right of joining a union back into the workplace without interference from the employers.

Doug Smiley


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