From the UFCW Local 400 Union Leader (2009)–All the signs are there—the economy is headed into a recession. The burst in the housing bubble, the sub-prime mortgage disaster and spate of foreclosures that followed have combined with an ever-expanding credit crisis to threaten the worst economic downturn in decades.
Already, the evidence is apparent. Housing values have dropped by a collective $8 trillion. Millions of homeowners face foreclosure. The U.S. economy has been losing roughly 90,000 jobs a month since November 2007. Though increasing by 3.7 percent last year, earnings still lagged behind inflation, continuing the long-term decline of the American standard of living.
The traditional way out of a recession is for the government to stimulate economic activity by spurring increased consumer spending. However, with Americans already holding record levels of debt—total credit card debt is nearing the $800 billion mark—this solution is going to be very difficult to implement through any of the economic tools government has used in the past.
Since incurring more credit card debt is not feasible—and wouldn’t be a long-term solution, even if it was—the only sustainable strategy to stimulate the economy is to increase workers’ incomes. The best way—indeed, the only proven way—to do that is for more workers to empower themselves through collective bargaining by organizing unions in their workplaces.
“Union members earn in excess of $10,000 a year more than non-union workers, on average,” noted Local 400 President Jim Lowthers. “So if 10 million additional workers were organized, that would pump more than $100 billion into the U.S. economy. This would be enough not only to help us out of the recession but to increase the middle class at a time when it has been shrinking.
“That is why the most powerful recession-fighting weapon available to Congress is to pass the Employee Free Choice Act,” Lowthers said. “By ensuring that unions will be recognized by employers in every workplace where a majority of workers sign union cards, and by forcing employers to bargain in good faith or be subject to harsh penalties, this bill will create a fair, democratic organizing process. The result will be millions of new union members and a real economic stimulus.
“We also need to increase investments in our infrastructure,” Lowthers added, “because that will create jobs, strengthen the foundation for our economy and remedy the long-neglected problem of crumbling highways, bridges and transit systems.”
In a recent New York Times column, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich noted that “the normal remedies [to fight a recession] are not likely to work this time, because this isn’t a normal downturn.”
While advocating some steps, such as an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit to help the working poor, Reich goes on to write, “We also need stronger unions, especially in the local service sector that’s sheltered from global competition. Employees should be able to form a union without the current protracted certification process that gives employers too much opportunity to intimidate or coerce them.
Workers should be able to decide whether to form a union with a simple majority vote.
“And employers who fire workers for trying to organize should have to pay substantial fines,” Reich continued. “Right now, the typical penalty is back pay for the worker, plus interest—a slap on the wrist.”
All of these changes recommended by Reich are part of the Employee Free Choice Act.
On March 1, 2007, the House passed the Employee Free Choice Act by a vote of 241 to 185. But on June 26, 2007, the will of a majority of senators was thwarted when the bill was blocked by a vote of 51 to 48, falling short of the 60 needed to end debate and force a vote on passage.
“Today, we must take two steps,” Lowthers said. “First, we need a renewed effort to bring the Employee Free ChoiceAct back before the Senate as an immediate action Congress can take to fight the recession and restore our economy to strength. Let’s put senators on the record again. If it passes, great, and if not, let’s hold those who voted no accountable for failing to improve the economy and the living standards of America’s working families.
“Second,” Lowthers continued, “We need to go to the polls this November in record numbers and vote for a stronger economy, better pay and more jobs by electing congressional candidates who will pass the Employee Free Choice Act and a president who will sign it into law.”