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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - March 10, 2009)

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By Mr. REID (for Mr. Kennedy (for himself, Mr. Harkin, Mr. Dodd, Ms. Mikulski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Reed, Mr. Sanders, Mr. Brown, Mr. Casey, Mr. Merkley, Mr. Byrd, Mr. Inouye, Mr. Leahy, Mr. Levin, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Reid, Mr. Lieberman, Mr. Akaka, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Feingold, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Nelson of Florida, Mr. Carper, Ms. Stabenow, Ms. Cantwell, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Cardin, Ms. Klobuchar, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Udall of New Mexico, Mrs. Shaheen, Mr. Begich, Mr. Burris, Mr. Kaufman, and Mrs. Gillibrand)):

S. 560. A bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act to establish an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during the organizing efforts, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. We are facing a profound economic crisis, the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression. Countless working families who were already living on the edge of financial disaster have been hit hard, and they have nothing to fall back on. Their faith in the American dream has been replaced by fear for their families and their future.

We have already taken some much-needed actions to put our country back on track, but more needs to be done. In these perilous times, working families need security. They need new skills and new opportunities. And they need a voice in the decisions that will affect their families and their futures.

Now more than ever, workers need someone on their side, fighting for them. Now more than ever, they need unions. Unions were fundamental in building America's middle class, and they have a vital role to play today in restoring the American dream for working families.

First and foremost, unions enable workers to obtain their fair share of the benefits that their hard work creates. Union wages are 30 percent higher than nonunion wages. Eighty percent of union workers have health insurance, compared to only 49 percent of their nonunion counterparts. Union members are four times more likely to have a guaranteed pension.

Equally important in this crisis, unions provide greater security and greater promise of fair treatment. At a time when workers who lose their jobs can remain unemployed for a year or more, those who are represented by a union have better job security and the assurance of knowing they will have a voice at the table when difficult decisions are made.

It is little wonder that so many Americans want a union on their side. In a recent survey, more than half of all nonunion workers--nearly 60 million men and women--say they would join a union if they could.

The problem is that most workers who want a union can't get one. Those who attempt to exercise this fundamental right often find that the current system is rigged against them.

Unscrupulous employers routinely break the law to keep unions out. They fire union supporters. They intimidate workers, harass them, and discriminate against them. They close down whole departments--or even entire plants--to avoid a union. A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that union supporters are fired in more than one quarter of all union organizing campaigns.

Even when workers prevail in a union election, employers can steal the victory by refusing to bargain fairly for the first union contract. They drag their feet, delay bargaining, and use a variety of other tactics to prevent an agreement. One study found that in more than a third of hard-won union elections, workers are denied a contract because of employers' delaying tactics.

Many of these abuses by employers are illegal, but employers have no incentive to change their behavior. The penalties for violating workers' rights are so weak that they simply become a minor cost of doing business.

Obviously, not all employers see unions as the enemy. Many successful companies have allowed their workers to organize without threats or dirty tricks. They have formed strong partnerships with their employees, and they have prospered. But these individual good examples are not enough to solve the problem. We need to deal with the bad actors. We need to stop the lawbreaking that has become alarmingly common and provide stronger protections for workers' rights.

That is why we need the Employee Free Choice Act. This important legislation will give American workers the real freedom to choose a union without fear of threats or intimidation.

First, the bill gives workers two possible ways to choose whether they want a union. They can rely on an election, or--if they fear intimidation from their employer during the election process--they can use a process called majority sign-up, which enables workers to choose whether they want a union by deciding whether to sign their name on a card calling for a union.

Majority sign-up has always been a valid way to form a union. Since 2003, more than half a million private sector workers have formed a union through this efficient and democratic process.

The problem is that under current law, workers may use the majority sign-up process only if their employer agrees. That is not fair. Workers--not their bosses--should get to choose how they make the important decision about whether they want union representation. The Employee Free Choice Act puts this choice in workers' hands.

Second, the bill ensures that workers who choose a union will have a fair process for getting a first contract. It provides that if the union and the employer don't reach a contract within 90 days, either side can seek mediation from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The agency has provided collective bargaining mediation services--including mediation of first contract negotiations--for more than 50 years, and it has an 86 percent success rate.

In the rare instance when the mediation process fails, the bill provides for binding arbitration, which will be handled by a panel of highly qualified arbitrators who have long experience in developing contract provisions that are fair to both sides. This type of arbitration is a tried-and-true method of resolving contract disputes that is already used in the rail and airline industries, and for public sector workers in at least 25 States.

Finally, the Employee Free Choice Act improves remedies for workers who face discrimination or retaliation when they seek to organize or obtain a first contract. Under the bill, employers will no longer be able to violate the law with impunity and write off the insignificant penalties as a minor cost of doing business. The act takes away these perverse incentives for employers to break the law by increasing the remedies for workers, and by imposing new penalties on employers who act illegally during organizing campaigns or first-contract bargaining. These important changes will put real teeth in the law, and give employers a financial reason to respect workers' rights.

With these basic reforms, the Employee Free Choice Act will fix the current broken system and level the economic playing field for millions of American workers. It will help them obtain real, tangible benefits that will make a difference in their lives and in the lives of their families.

By restoring fairness to the American workplace, and strengthening the voice of American workers, we can rebuild the land of opportunity--a land with good jobs, fair wages, and fair benefits that can support a family. We can revitalize the American middle class and restore the American dream. I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation and help put working families back on the path to prosperity.

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