Friday, January 23, 2009

Change We Need Now

President Barack Obama has expressed his support for the Employee Free Choice Act, or card check. It's one of the most important reasons he got my vote.

The same folks who push things like "right to work," which turns out more like the right to hobble unions and fire whomever they wish whenever they want, are now claiming they want to preserve the right of workers to a secret ballot. These are the same people who protect us all against raises in the minimum wage (Try living on that). They're standing up against union thugs (like me) who'd urge you to sign that card.

After all, I'm a pretty tough guy. Sure, you may be bigger than I am, and sure, I can't fire you. Sure, I can't refuse you that raise, and I can't write up your job performance. I can't refuse to write you a job recommendation, and actually I can't do anything whatsoever in terms of your job.

Now that I think of it, it's your employer who can do all those things. So perhaps it's not such a great idea for me to skulk around and try to organize that prized secret ballot, because my employer has a multitude of ways to prevent it. In fact, that's why union supporters (like me) want to pass card check.

If Obama passes this one right for working people, a right opposed by Maverick Johny, that in itself will have made all our votes for him worthwhile. Unfortunately, he appears to be waffling.

The president-elect also gave his support for legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, but he said there may be other ways to achieve the same goal without angering businesses. And while many Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to see a quick vote on that bill, he indicated no desire to rush into the contentious issue.

Let's hope he gets with the program, even if it inconveniences Wal-Mart, or the hedge fund guys who helped run the economy into the ground, and now want to extend their expertise to public schools.. As the NY Times pointed out:

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

When does unionization benefit working people? Always.

I'm not shy in criticizing my union leadership. However, I've no doubt whatsoever that NYC public school teachers would be worse off without a union. If" you look at the state of teachers in "right to work" states, you see there's little to envy. A lot of people know who I am. Would I even be able to write this if I weren't in a union? A friend of mine actually lost his job when his bosses discovered his anonymous blog. Millard Fillmore's Bathtub asks "Should Teachers Blog?" and elicits a telling response from Kate:

Unfortunately, none of that matters in a ‘right to work state’ like Florida and Georgia, where teachers can be fired pretty much without reason. Georgia even has a clause that states that teachers must meet other criteria or expectations placed by the administration of their schools.

Blogging is a dangerous activity.

Would you want to be in that position? Me neither. More importantly, I don't want my students or my child to be in that position. The question is this: Do you want to fact your employers alone, or would you like your colleagues, perhaps even tens of thousands of them, to face them with you?

If you're smart enough to teach my kid, there's only one right answer.

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