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Public Statements

Employee Free Choice Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT -- (Senate - June 19, 2007)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I wish to address the Senate on a matter we will have an opportunity to vote on as this week goes on; and that is the Employee Free Choice Act. I think to understand this issue, we have to understand what has been happening to the middle class, the working families in this country over the period of these last 30 years and what happened to the middle class in the 20 or 30 years before that and what happened at the turn of the century as we came into the 20th century.

In my own State of Massachusetts, at the turn of the century, coming into the 1900s, we had the most extraordinary and excessive exploitation of American workers. They were not just American workers, they were children.

All one has to do is travel up to Lowell, MA, where we have a national park, and travel through the areas that are preserved--some of the old textile mills--and you will read, encased in many of those wonderful viewing stands, these letters of children who were 8 or 9 or 10 years old who worked 15 hours a day. They were paid very minimum salaries, and they were required to work.

We had the exploitation of women in those conditions. The conditions were extraordinarily dangerous. We had the wages that were completely inadequate to provide a decent wage for people who were working long and hard.

Then we saw the changes that took place in the 1940s as workers came together and demanded economic and social justice. We saw the changes that took place in the workplace in terms of fairness and equity. Interestingly, we saw the vast increase in productivity. The American economy grew stronger. The middle class were the ones who brought us out of the Great Depression, the ones who fought in World War II, the ones who put us back on track after we had 16 million Americans who served in World War II and brought us back to a strong and expanding economy, where everyone moved along together. Everyone moved along together.

We made enormous progress during the 1950s and the 1960s and in the early 1970s. We made economic progress for workers and working families, and we made social progress too. We passed Medicare and Medicaid. We passed the higher education bill. We passed legislation to stop child labor. We passed a whole range of different kinds of programs to make this a more fair and a more just country with strong opposition, but I don't hear any effort to try and repeal those marks of progress we made in terms of economic and social justice. And, the courts obviously filled an enormous responsibility.

So what happened during this period of time? I am putting up a chart that shows the number of abuses of workers. This part of the chart shows from 1941 to 1966. During this period of time, we had what we are talking about--majority sign-up. We had it in effect during this period of time, interestingly enough. Card checkoffs were in effect during this period of time, from 1941 all the way up to 1966 and then the National Labor Relations Board and the Supreme Court gradually eliminated of that protection. Then we found an increase in the various abuses we had during this period of time; that is, firing workers who were interested in trying to form a union. The refusal to accept the outcome of an election. We find a series of different kinds of abuses to make it more and more difficult for people to be able to join the unions.

But what we had here is the fact that we had labor and management agreements and we had progress and economic prosperity during this period of time.

This chart shows during that same period of time, where we talked about actually peak union membership, wages and productivity rise together. Look at from 1947 to 1964. We see an increase in productivity and an increase in wages and America moved along together. There was economic progress that moved along.

Then, as we find the unions beginning to decline, we find that workers are falling further and further and further behind. Wages now have flattened, basically, and often, in terms of their purchasing power, have actually gone down. We see that since the loss of card check, productivity grew 206 percent more than wages.

So we had the idea that workers were able to get together and represent their views, and we had the increase in productivity. Then we saw the country making very important progress.

Well, how is that reflected in the Nation? This chart shows what was happening in that same period of time, from 1947 to 1973. Growing together. Here it is in 1947, 1957, 1967, up to 1973: The lowest, 20 percent; the second, 20 percent; the 20 percent in the middle; and then, fourth and fifth, virtually all the same in terms of real economic growth during the same period I just pointed out where we had maximum union activity, increasing productivity, and the Nation, the United States of America, all growing, growing, and growing together. That was going on from 1947 through 1973.


Mr. KENNEDY. If the Chair would let me know when I have 1 minute.

We have just seen what has happened from 1947 to 1973 through the course of the middle class. Now let's take a look at the years 1973 to 2000. We have the beginning of America growing apart. Look what is happening. The lowest, the second lowest, the middle, the fourth. Look at what is happening at the top: 20 percent, growing higher during this period of time. This was the beginning of the Reagan revolution that was taking place, extraordinary tax programs that were taking place, reflecting itself in how America is growing. Are we growing more together, or are we growing more apart?

Look what has happened now in the most recent times. The lowest 20 percent, because of the rates of inflation, are actually going down. Then the second 20 percent, the middle 20 percent--and the top 1 percent is the one that was growing during this period of time.

What has happened at the same time is that we see the corporate profits have now gone up 63 percent more compared to workers' wages and benefits, which have now basically stabilized. This country, the United States, grows together, works together. We are a united people. We see what has been happening as a result of the fact that unions have been effectively attacked and diminished in this country.

Before I conclude, this past Sunday was Father's Day. Look at the difference between fathers and sons in 1964 and 1994. From 1964 to 1994, what we have seen is the sons did better. The middle class was expanding. The sons did better than their fathers over this period of time. There was growth. Look what is happening from 1974 to 2004: a decline of 12 percent. The son is doing poorer than the father for the first time in the history of this country--the first time in the history of this country.

We know the corresponding difference. We had workers who were able to get together, and we find out there is a corresponding increase. When you diminish the unions, you diminish the power of working men and women. That happens to be the fact.

What is the trade union movement asking for? All they want is what we had years ago. All they are asking for is what we had during the period from 1947 to 1966, and it worked then. Look at the wages and productivity and what happened in the United States of America. We all grew together. We all grew together. So why this emotional reaction and response from the other side: My God, the Employee Free Choice Act. This is some crazy idea that we can't possibly even think about or even tolerate.

This is an idea that has been tried and tested. How few the times are in the Senate when we are trying to do something that has been tried and tested and successful. We had the measure which was effectively the card checkoff during the period when wages and productivity grew together and we had the fact that America, the United States of America grew together.

That is the choice we have in the Employee Free Choice Act. Are we going to go back to this period of time when we as a country and a society grow together, or are we going to continue to grow apart? That is the heart of the question, and the Employee Free Choice Act is really the resolution and the solution.

So I look forward to more time. I see my friend. I have taken time now. I am thankful that my good colleague and friend from the State of Washington wishes to address this issue. This is very basic and fundamental about our country and about the kind of America we want.

I come from a State that takes pride in the fact that the Mayflower arrived on the coast off of Massachusetts, and the captain and the crew came together after 6 weeks and they signed the Mayflower Compact. And that is the compact that made Massachusetts a commonwealth. What is a commonwealth? It is a common interest in all of the families saying we are going to work together to make a better State, a better country, a better nation, a better world. That is what is at the base of this legislation and what it is all about, and I hope the Senate will give us a chance to vote in favor of it.


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