PITTSBURGH – ‘We are on the verge of passing the most important piece of legislation in 75 years – the Employee Free Choice Act,’ AFL-CIO director of organizing Stewart Acuff told a packed panel discussion here at the national Netroots conference August 13.
‘This is the biggest fight between labor and capital since 1947, when big business pushed through the Taft-Hartley Act,’ Acuff continued. ‘But, if this was just labor’s fight we would never win. The engagement of the netroots movement is incredibly important.’
According to Acuff, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) will accomplish three goals. First, it will streamline the process of forming a union. Second, it will provide real penalties for employers who violate the law. Third, it will provide real incentives to negotiate a first contract.
In its effort to pass EFCA, the labor movement has generated over 200,000 hand written letters, 100,000 phone calls and has delivered over 1,000,000 postcards to the hill – just this year alone.
Acuff added, ‘The labor movement is the engine for social progress. All of us who believe in a different America have a stake in this fight.’
Jake McIntyre, from the Bricklayer’s Union, said, ‘We all recognize why unions are great. They bargain for better wages, pensions, health care and job protection. But,’ he added, ‘we have to appeal to the base of the democratic party who don’t know that there is a direct connection between union members – union growth – and progressive voters.’
‘More union members means more democratic and progressive voters. More progressive voters means electing more progressive politicians. More progressive politicians means winning progressive legislation,’ McIntyre concluded.
A guest speaker, William Miller, also addressed the audience. Miller, who had worked for Am-Gard, one of the largest contract security companies in the U.S., was recently fired for trying to organizing a union. ‘The bosses say I was fired for wearing my uniform in a picture used in a union flyer,’ said Miller. ‘But it was for joining the union.’
Miller who has worked for Am-Gard for six years and Victory Security for three, made between $8 and $9.50 an hour depending on which security bid got the contract at the garage he worked at. ‘Every time a new security corporation came in,’ Miller continued, ‘my wages went down.’
‘Unfortunately,’ McIntyre added, ‘Miller’s story isn’t rare. Half of all organizing campaigns include sever discipline, intimidation and firings.’
‘Workers face constant abuse and coercion every day in this country,’ he said.
Elana Levin, assistant director of communications for Workers United, connected the dots between union members, journalists and bloggers in the struggle for health care reform when she said, ‘Workers have experienced the health care war themselves. This is valuable content for bloggers, but it also builds support for workers and their struggle.’
Matt Browner-Hamlin, from the Service Employees International Union media department, couldn’t agree more. ‘The continuity and relationships that the labor movement has is a great resource for political bloggers,’ he said.
‘The Republicans would rather cut money for schools, home care and social services than raise taxes on the richest 1 percent,’ he continued. ‘But, no one wants to see social services cut. This is another reason why there needs to be a lot more cooperation between bloggers and unions.’
Blaine Rummell, from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees legislative department, summed things up when he said, ‘The union agenda is the progressive agenda.’