Workers picket Karl Rove's $1,000-a-plate Big Biz dinner

ST. LOUIS -- 'The Employee Free Choice Act is exactly what it says. A free choice for workers,' Ben Harmon, financial secretary for the greater St. Louis United Auto Workers union CAP Council, told the World.

Harmon, along with around 30 other trade union activists, was picketing a $1,000-a-plate Missouri Chamber of Commerce dinner for Karl Rove, a vocal opponent of workers' rights, on July 15 here.

Harmon, who used to work at the Chrysler North Assembly Plant in Fenton, Mo., has seen first-hand the 'intimidation, harassment and manipulation' workers have to go through when they try to form a union. He says 'the Employee Free Choice Act would bring balance' and help unions 'build density.'

'When union loose density, workers loose wages and benefits,' Harmon added. 'When unions grow, workers win.'

Margaret Phillips agrees. She told the World, 'Unions help put money back in workers' pockets. In this economy, we need people spending money. Unions aren't only just, they're good for the economy.'

According to the Economic Policy Institute, on average, union members make about $10 more per hour than their non-union counterparts. They also receive better benefits, health care and pensions, longer vacations, and dignity and respect on the job, something that can't be quantified in wages.

'Thousands of workers are fired every year for trying to form a union,' Jason Fedarow told the World. Fedarow, who works for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Missouri State Council, said, 'Karl Rove and William 'Bucky' Bush are up there spreading lies about workers and unions.'

He added, 'Unions play a role not only in the workplace, but also in other areas of struggle. If the union movement is stronger, the whole progressive movement benefits. That's the real reason they oppose the Employee Free Choice Act so much.'

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, along with other business associations, has been pushing the so-called 'Save Our Secret Ballots' (SOS) initiative.

On the legislative end, SOS went down in defeat as the Missouri legislature adjourned May 15. By refusing to take up the measure, House Joint Resolution 37, the legislature sent a clear message to the Chamber of Commerce.

However, the SOS ballot initiative is moving ahead, as paid canvassers are attempting to collect enough signatures to get it on the ballot in November.

According to Keith Tubbs, St. Louis regional organizer for the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, 'SOS would allow the status quo to continue. The Employee Free Choice Act would allow the pendulum to swing towards workers' rights.'

Tubbs added, 'Bush administration NLRB appointees found that over 30 percent of workers in workplaces trying to organize faced intimidation, harassment and threats. Others were unjustly fired. And this is with Bush appointees. Imagine how many workers were actually intimidated, harassed or fired.'

Congress is expected to vote on the Employee Free Choice Act this fall.

Missouri Jobs with Justice, SEIU and Pro-Vote organized the July 15 protest.

tonypec @ cpusa.org