It’s official: The U.S. economy has been in a recession for a year and a half and many of the economic troubles worrying progressives in 2007 have yet to be addressed. While the Obama administration has taken steps to relieve some problems, a series of counterproductive bailouts, woefully inadequate labor laws and rampant inequality are still in urgent need of attention.
Severe economic inequality has persisted for decades in the U.S., but the current crisis is bringing things into focus. Unfortunately, while Wall Street excess and the corporate jet-setting of Detroit executives have dominated headlines and garnered plenty of justified outrage, the other side of the inequality coin has been largely neglected.
Our labor laws desperately need to be revamped. Currently, Capitol Hill’s biggest battle for workers rights is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for workers to form a union without fear of employer reprisals or intimidation. The corporate executive class is lobbying hard against EFCA by claiming it revokes workers’ rights to a secret ballot in union elections, but the bill would do no such thing. As the law currently stands, employers can force workers who want to unionize to hold an election in order to actually establish a union. EFCA would require that a union be legally recognized as soon as a majority of workers sign cards saying they want to unionize. Union leaders are still elected by a secret ballot, but the election is permitted to take place later on, preventing employers from using the election period to bully their workers out of unionizing at all.
Writing for In These Times, David Moberg illustrates the commonplace peril of employer intimidation under the current organizing process:
“In 2005 [electrician Dan Luevano] and most of his fellow workers at Ries Electric near Denver asked their boss to recognize the Electrical Workers as their union to help resolve problems. The boss called everyone in and threatened to fire them if they voted for a union. Luevano said he would, and the next workday he was fired. Though the National Labor Relations Board reinstated him, his boss isolated him and cut his hours while continuing to violate labor laws by fighting the union.”
Workers and unions have pushed for EFCA for years, but when it comes to the economy, the federal government reacts fastest to problems on Wall Street. In Salon, Andy Kroll outlines the generous subsidies the government has paid to companies that drove themselves into the ground, effectively rewarding the economically destructive behaviors that caused the current crisis, while neglecting the workers whose hours and wages have been slashed as business credit tightens ups.