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Smiting the workers

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It’s not enough for Republican senators to make their shady friends richer. Legislative over-achievers, they’re unsatisfied unless they’re making working-class Americans poorer, too.

The senators struck a heavy blow for their side when they prevented the Senate from taking up a bill that would allow workers a larger say in how their own unions are formed. Republican obstructionism assures that employees will have to wait until 2009 for relief, if not longer.

The Republicans got no help from Arkansas’s two senators, both Democrats who voted to begin consideration of the worker-backed Employee Free Choice Act. The Arkansans voted for their constituents, in other words. Ours is a low-income state, filled with low-wage earners. Short of rediscovering oil, few things would raise the Arkansas standard of living as much as an increase in the number of union workers. On average, union workers nationwide are paid 30 percent more than their non-union counterparts. Eighty percent of union workers in the private sector have employer-provided health insurance; only 49 percent of non-union workers do. Union workers can fight for their jobs and their dignity in a way that non-union workers cannot, especially in a fire-at-will state like Arkansas. Years ago, a union leader told of us organizing a plant in South Arkansas. An elderly worker said it wasn’t the low wages and the lack of fringe benefits that most troubled him, it was his supervisor’s habit of kicking workers in the rear when they displeased him. “Can you stop the hiney-kicking?” he asked.

Under existing law, employers can demand a secret-ballot election when workers try to form a union. In the period leading up to the vote, employers seek to intimidate workers with threats of lost jobs and closed plants. The EFCA would still permit an election, if workers chose to use that method, but it also would allow the formation of a union after a majority of workers signed pro-union cards, a procedure that makes employees less vulnerable to employer threats. That allows them to cover their hineys.

Bush’s game

“George W. Bush says, ‘History will judge what I’m about,’ but his legacy already can be seen throughout the capital, in the astounding 100 private office buildings that have been built or redeveloped in downtown Washington since 2001. These new edifices stand as monuments to a radical outsourcing of the federal government – total dollars spent on contractors have doubled under Bush, with half of all contracts dispensed without competitive bidding; private employees working on federal contracts now outnumber actual federal employees.”

– Daniel Brook, Harper’s Magazine.

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