Workers welcome Free Choice Act

SAN FRANCISCO — “Celebration” was the watchword as over 250 unionists and supporters gathered for a noontime rally at the Federal Building March 9 to mark the impending introduction into Congress of the Employee Free Choice Act.

To enthusiastic applause, area workers shared the experiences that had led them to see passage of the act as vital not only for workers’ rights on the job but also for a healthy economy.

When she and others began organizing a newsroom union at Bay Area News Group papers, Sara Steffens thought the hardest part would be bringing her co-workers on board.

“After two months we had about two-thirds of our co-workers signing cards asking for a union, and that’s when I found out how wrong I was,” she said.

The company hired an anti-union consultant, who spent the next six weeks trying to scare people into voting against the union, Steffens said.

“Despite everything,” the workers won their union, but just weeks later, 29 members of the bargaining unit were laid off, Steffens among them.

“I’m still fighting for our union, we’re fighting for our first contract,” Steffens told the crowd. “I think workers need the Employee Free Choice Act so we can feel empowered to solve problems in our workplace, and not be afraid we’re going to lose our jobs if we speak up.”

Also sharing her experiences was Ana Flores, for 20 years a housekeeper at San Francisco’s HEI Le Meridien Hotel.

“I must lift at least 14 mattresses every day, clean bathrooms — it’s very hard work,” she told the crowd. When she and her fellow workers asked management to recognize the union based on majority sign-up, hours were cut and people’s shifts were changed.

“All we are asking is to have a voice at work. We need dignity, some health insurance, a little bit of retirement,” Flores said.

San Francisco Labor Council head Tim Paulson reminded the rally that President Obama has pledged to sign the bill and “now we have to work hard to make sure we get it to his desk.”

His counterpart at the Alameda Labor Council, Sharon Cornu, emphasized that the country’s labor laws can’t be reformed or its economy rebuilt to work for everyone, without the Employee Free Choice Act with its recognition of unions on majority sign-up, greater penalties for employers who intimidate workers during organizing campaigns, and provisions for first-contract arbitration.

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