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Bruce Raynor

Let’s Put the Labor Back in Labor Day

Labor Day’s not only the end of summer and a time for back-to-school sales and barbeques. While corporate America would like you to go deeper into debt over this holiday, I want you to join me in reflecting on the American middle class.

It’s no coincidence that Madison Avenue would rather you think about shopping than think about workers. And it’s no coincidence that the decline in the labor movement has led to a decline in the middle class. But this decline is not caused by workers not wanting union representation: 53% of workers who don’t have a union want one.

And why wouldn’t they? Union workers have higher wages, are more likely to have health insurance and retirement security through a pension and get more time off to spend with their families. Union members are also more engaged citizens. For instance, union members vote at a higher rate than most Americans.

The reason for the decline of unions and the middle class is not immigration. When immigrants join with their co-workers in a union, they join the middle class. When they don’t, they often toil in poverty. An immigrant housekeeper in a New York City hotel, where there’s a strong union, earns good wages with health benefits and a pension. An immigrant housekeeper in an Atlanta hotel, where there is no union, doesn’t.

Employers will use any means available - including an immigrant’s fear of deportation - to stop workers from organizing and protect their bottom line. 82% of employers hire anti-union consultants when workers try to organize. 91% of workers who try to organize are forced to attend intimidating, closed-door meetings with management. And every 23 minutes, a worker is fired or discriminated against for supporting a union drive. Is it any wonder that unions are on the decline?

That’s why companies like Cintas, which is facing a record-breaking $2.78 million penalty for safety violations that led to the horrific death of employee Eleazar Torres Gomez, think they can get away with a campaign of coercion to keep workers from forming their union.

And when workers at California-based Prudential Overall Supply launched a campaign last June, that company also responded with threats, coercion, and intimidation. These courageous workers have voted to strike in protest the company’s alleged Unfair Labor Practices. Hundreds of union Prudential workers - whose contracts expired on August 14 - have also voted to strike in solidarity with their non-union brothers and sisters, which could begin as early this week.

And that’s why American Eagle Outfitters, a company which prides itself on its image and style, thinks it’s okay to ignore its Code of Conduct and do business with a company that preys on its workers.

Even when workers finally get a union, employers still fight. Next week, more than 12,000 hotel and casino workers in Las Vegas will be voting to authorize a strike at 18 properties to try and get their fair share of that booming tourism trade. And the cafeteria workers at Citigroup in New York City are still trying to negotiate a contract more than a year after their last one expired. They work for Aramark, a national food service company, who subcontracts with a wealthy company in a booming city, and yet they still won’t do the right thing.

Given all of this, you might think I would be pessimistic. But I’m not – and I hope you aren’t either. Workers across this country are still fighting for the chance to join a union -- and we need to fight with them. We need to support the Employee Free Choice Act. We need to support Comprehensive Immigration Reform that will bring immigrants out of the shadows and make it easier for them to join a union. And we need to continue to support workers who, despite all the odds, recognize that joining a union is the best chance to join the middle class. Honor boycotts, join a picket line, help form a union, and help rebuild this country’s middle class.

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Posted at 9:59 AM, Sep 03, 2007 in Labor
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