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The BIG union fight in DC
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An article in the Nation last week examined the high-stakes battle in Washington over the Employee Free Choice Act, organized labor's highest priority.

It was an issue in last year's Congressional session; was made a significant issue in some state elections by national business groups, who poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns; and figures to be one of the tone-setting issues of President-elect Barack Obama's first year in office.

While on it's face the legislation may not seem to be significant to the average American (and even union building trades workers) Esther Kaplan's article explains how it could decide whether the American middle class goes extinct once and for all. The entire article is well worth reading, start-to-finish, but here's a few snippets to set the table...

At first glance, Employee Free Choice looks like little more than a technical fix. In addition to allowing unionizing through majority sign-up, it stiffens penalties for intimidating or firing union supporters and imposes arbitration when a company refuses to bargain a first contract. But as the leading corporate lobbies recognize, the bill could have far-reaching effects. By reviving unions, it could push up wages, realigning the broken economy so that company profits are spread beyond CEOs. It could help rein in corporate power and, perhaps most threatening to a business community that has enjoyed decades of deregulation, sustain a progressive majority in Washington in the years to come. If progressives aren't doing the math, conservatives are. "Unions don't spend money to elect Republicans," Senator John Ensign told a group of executives this past fall. "They spend money to elect Democrats. From our perspective, this would have devastating consequences."
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With the concentration of wealth approaching 1929 levels, there is a forceful case to be made that unionization holds the best chance for a reversal. Corporate profits have doubled since 2001, while real wages have flatlined and the number of workers earning poverty wages has risen to nearly a quarter of the workforce. Unionized workers earn between 15 and 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts and receive far better health and retirement benefits, and when unions reach a high enough density in a particular industry, wages in nonunion shops tend to rise to meet the new standard.
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But unionization rates have been crashing for decades. "Historically, unionization basically created the middle class," says economist James Galbraith. "First, by its direct effect on the wages and benefits of unionized workers; second, by its indirect effect on the wages of workers who weren't unionized; and third, by the impact unions had on the creation of the social institutions that underpin the middle class, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid--the very structures of the New Deal and the Great Society." A line tracing the rise of wealth inequality and one tracing the decline in unionization make a perfect mirror image of each other.

If your interest in the Employee Free Choice Act has been little to none, you might want to read this article and reconsider. It could be the canary in the middle class coal mine.

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