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Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC




Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I come to the floor on two very important issues, issues that really do go to the heart of the kind of economy and future that our Nation will have. One is the Employee Free Choice Act, which we will be voting on in the next day or two, and the other is the very important Energy bill that we have been debating.

With respect to the Employee Free Choice Act, for me, this is about preserving, supporting, and growing the American middle class. The middle class is the backbone of the American economy, and our unions are the backbone of the American middle class. It is time we passed into law the Employee Free Choice Act to give unions a level playing field so they can organize for fair wages, safe working conditions, and the hard-won rights and responsibilities that American workers demand and deserve.

This is a moment of profound challenge for our country. There is a deep sense of concern that I have certainly heard and listened to as I have traveled throughout America. Americans know they cannot win in the global economy unless the middle class wins, but there is a feeling that some people are betting against the American middle class. Some people have assumed that in a global economy one of the changes that will have to be made is that the middle class will have to shrink; that inequity is inevitable; that globalization is a harsh phenomenon that we have to accept. Well, I do not, and our families are right to be concerned.

In 2005 all income gains went to the top 10 percent of households. The vast majority of people--the other 90 percent--saw their incomes decline. Health care costs are up, gas prices are up, the cost of college is up, and for 6 straight years worker productivity, which means how hard people work--because American workers are the hardest working people in the world--has gone up. But wages have either been stagnant or falling. 2005 was the first year since the Great Depression that average personal savings were negative for a whole year. There is a sense that we are losing something in America; that basic bargain that allowed our country to succeed: if you work hard, you and your family can reach the middle class. You can have that American dream.

So it is not surprising that we are seeing the weakening of the American middle class at the same time we see unions under assault. In the early years of the National Labor Relations Act, the majority sign-up procedure was the presumptively valid way in which employees could choose a union. Over the years, however, culminating in the 1960s, a number of decisions shifted us to a new regime, a regime where employers can choose to require their employees to vote for unions through a one-sided election process, dominated by employers, in order to secure collective bargaining rights. Some employers even began to make efforts to push unions out of the workplace.

Just consider these comparative facts: In the 1950s, companies illegally fired or punished during organizing campaigns, or they otherwise violated National Labor Relations Act rights, fewer than 1,000 employees. The number increased to 6,000 workers in 1969. And now, today, it is 31,000 workers who have been illegally fired or otherwise punished for wanting to exercise a fundamental right, one that we believe people should be able to exercise not only here in our country but around the world. As the number of labor violations have increased, we have seen it become harder and harder for workers to organize.

In 1956, unions represented 35 percent of the private workforce. The number today is only 7 percent. Our middle class, which unions helped to build in the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s, and the 1960s is suffering as a result. Studies show that the decline in union membership has been responsible for at least 20 percent of the rise in income inequality over the last three decades. I think it is probably much more than that, but that is what we can quantify.

It is time, therefore, that we modernize labor laws that are stacked against working people and stacked against their right to unionize. Right now, employers have unlimited access to employees in one-sided union representation elections. Employers are given every opportunity to dissuade workers in mandatory one-to-one meetings. They can delay votes for years. There are no fines or penalties or sanctions if an employer illegally fires or discriminates against a worker for collective bargaining.

At most, the worker is reinstated with backpay, an award that is, on average, so small that many employers regard it as a cost of doing business. Finally, 32 percent of workers who choose to unionize, still do not have a contract after a year of making that choice.

The system is broken. It is not only our collective bargaining and unionization system, it is our economy as it affects our middle class. Our country needs reforms that will bring balance to our labor laws, and our workers need the opportunity to unite with their coworkers to obtain the protections and benefits of America's labor movement.

Union wages are 20 percent higher than nonunion wages. Union members are almost twice as likely to be covered by health insurance and to participate in employer-provided retirement plans.

Unions improve safety conditions. For example, deaths in nonunion mines are almost twice as likely as deaths in mines where the workers are union members.

Unions certainly provide opportunities for women and minorities. Women in unions earn an extra $179 per week. African Americans in unions earn an extra $187 per week. Latinos in unions earn an extra $217 per week. Nonunion employees benefit from the efforts of the unions to seek benefits and protections. That is why it is so important we pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

It is long past time to enact real financial penalties against those employers who illegally fire or retaliate against workers during an organizing campaign. It is long past time to allow employees to decide if they want to use majority sign-up to organize.

Finally, it is long past time to allow either employers or employees to request mediation if they are unable to negotiate a contract after 90 days of collective bargaining.

These changes will finally give employers an incentive to bargain in good faith and to avoid situations where years, and even decades, can pass without a bargaining agreement.

I believe in the basic bargain. I believe that unions help keep that bargain for America's working people. I hope this Congress will uphold its end of that basic bargain; that this Congress will pass the Employee Free Choice Act; that the Senate will join the House, which has done so, to give employees the real, fair chance to garner the protections and benefits of unions and to give unions the opportunity to help bring workers into the middle class.

That is part of the equation; to respect and protect the rights of those in the workplace and to give them the opportunity to unionize. The other part of the equation is to have good jobs, good jobs with rising incomes. We need a source of new, good jobs in America. That is why this Energy bill is so important. Much of the debate about the Energy bill has been, rightly so, about the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil--which I agree with 100 percent; the need to begin, finally, to address seriously global warming--which I think is way overdue.

But there has not been enough talk about why this Energy bill is critical to the economy of the United States in the way it will help to create millions of new jobs. As the Presiding Officer knows, he and I offered an amendment, which we are pleased the managers accepted, to provide incentives for training and equipping and preparing the workforce to do what are called green-collar jobs. These are jobs that can't be outsourced, by and large. If we finally get serious--and I hope we will get back to visit some of the financial incentives that need to be in this bill that unfortunately we were unable to include--we will begin to join other countries that have gotten smart about this.

Germany gets a lot of its electricity now generated by solar--you know, panels on the roofs of residences and offices. The last time I checked, Germany was not a tropical climate, but they have taken advantage of government-incentives to move the market toward using solar.

Denmark is also moving toward more wind energy. The United Kingdom, which went into Kyoto when our country left it, has created tens of thousands of new jobs weatherizing homes, installing new energy technology such as solar, such as wind. We could do this many times over. We believe we could create millions of new, good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans.

Every so often we have to regenerate our job creation in America. During the 1990s, we had a lot of new jobs that were related to telecom and information technology. We saw the creation of 22 million new jobs between 1993 and 2001. We saw more people lifted out of poverty than at any time in our country's history. We saw shared prosperity--not what we are seeing today, where the bulk of the benefits go to a very small sliver of us.

This Energy bill is about jobs, it is about creating new, good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans. What I am looking at when I think of the Employee Free Choice Act and when I think of this Energy bill is how we get back into balance, how we get back to where the economy works for everybody, where the market is not stacked against those who are not already privileged, where unions can once again be a vehicle for people moving into and staying in the middle class and, comparably, where we can have a new source of jobs.

We also have to recognize how we have to look at the jobs that are already in the economy and how the Energy bill will affect them. I am hopeful we will think seriously about lifting the health care costs off a lot of our labor-intensive, energy-intensive, capital-intensive industries in America, such as the automobile industry, because laboring under the costs of health care is an uncompetitive position for them in the global economy.

There is a lot to be done. I wish to be sure that as we look at the economy and begin to try to get it back into that balance that works best for America, that we vote for the Employee Free Choice Act, which is a way of giving employees the choice to have a better life for themselves and their families. There is a lot to be done in our country. I am very optimistic we can begin tackling our challenges. But so much of what we have to do to create the framework for our people to have that better future has to come from this Chamber.

Let's look at the future together. Let's make decisions that will give the tools to our people to show they are the best workers and the most competitive and productive people in the world, to unleash that dynamism in the American economy, and to demonstrate clearly that we stand with the American middle class.

I yield the floor.

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