As part of a growing grassroots movement, over 100 community and labor activists rallied for the Employee Free Choice Act in Cleveland Public Square March 30th.

The event, one of 44 “Resistance and Recovery” actions held nationwide by the Jobs With Justice coalition during the week of March 27 – April 4, was also sponsored by the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor.

Standing before the statue of Tom L. Johnson, Cleveland’s early 20th century populist mayor, speakers included Jennifer Brunner, Ohio Secretary of State, Stanley Miller, President of the Cleveland NAACP, David Kondik, President of Kondik Printing, Mackenzie Bailey, Regional Representative of the Sierra Club, Linda Kurtzman, an employee of AT&T and member of CWA Local 4320, and Harriet Applegate, Executive Secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO.

During the event, a flatbed truck with huge signs reading “Turn America Around 2009 – Employee Free Choice Act Equals Economic Recovery” circled the Square, a 20-foot high puppet of President Barack Obama, waved its arms in support of the bill and a street theater production exposed how union recognition elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board are easily manipulated by companies to stop unionization.

The bill would prevent companies from imposing such elections if a majority of workers choose to join a union by signing cards.

“As someone who runs secret ballot elections for a living,” Brunner said, “I can tell you we need the Employee Free Choice Act.” She denounced an editorial in the Columbus Dispatch that day falsely claiming the bill would take away the secret ballot. “Workers,” she said, “could still choose to have a secret ballot if the majority want it, but employers could not make that decision for them.”

Unions, she said, strengthen communities by fighting for health care, retirement benefits and living wages and “stimulate the economy.”

Brunner, who is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in next year’s election, said she would work closely with Obama for passage of the bill and other measures to strengthen the role of organized labor.

Applegate said there was nothing new about a majority of workers signing cards to join a union. “That’s how most workers join unions now, including the workers at AT&T, but it should be up to the workers to decide, not their employers.” She called the bill “a cornerstone for economic recovery.”

“It will put money in the hands of low-wage and middle-class workers, who will spend it to get the economy moving again.”

Miller, a former member of the CWA, said the NAACP “nationally and locally supports the Employee Free Choice Act” and “always finds itself fighting for workers’ rights.” He urged organized labor to work for maximum diversity in its membership. The crowd cheered when it was announced the local NAACP would soon pass a resolution reaffirming support for the bill.

Debbie Kline, Director of Cleveland Jobs With Justice, was also cheered as she announced that the city councils of Cleveland and four suburbs had recently passed resolutions supporting the bill. She also read the names of area businesses supporting the bill and introduced Kondik, owner of a union print shop, who declared that “good employees, if treated with respect, will do anything. They will crawl over glass to make their company succeed.”

Bailey said the Sierra Club strongly supports the bill because “workers are the first line of defense against pollution hazards and unsafe conditions. If workers have union rights they won’t fear for their jobs if they call attention to these problems.”

She said the Employee Free Choice Act was a critical part of a “clean energy economy.”

Kline said a video stream of the entire event would be available at www.clevelandjwj.org. and announced plans for a statewide mobilization to canvas the city of Lakewood door-to-door on behalf of the bill April 25.

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