Employee Free Choice Act Of 2007--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: June 26, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, history shows when the union movement is strong, the middle class is strong. When the middle class is strong, our Nation is strong.

But when the union movement is under attack, the middle class is under attack. When the middle class is under attack, our Nation is weaker economically and politically. Let there be no mistake, the union movement and our middle class are under attack. Just take a look at the numbers.

Since 1973, 26 percent of the workers in America belong to unions. The pay and benefits, the working conditions, the basic dignity they fought for spilled over to the rest of working class Americans. We are all better off for it.

I would like to show you a couple of charts. Between 1947 and 1973, if you look at rising income growth, and based on the percentile of income shown on this chart, essentially everyone from 1947 to 1973--the rising tide lifts all boats, and it lifted all boats--there was an actual real income growth of almost 118 percent for the lowest 20 percentile. The top 20 percentile grew over 80 percent. There was some genuine equity.

Then take a look at what happened as the union movement began to take blows from the Supreme Court and the NLRB. There used to be card check back in those days, by the way. If you wanted to join a union, you got a card check, a little like we are talking about now.

Look what happened between 1973 and the year 2000. Real income growth, the lowest 20 percent, grew just about 12 percent. The top 20 percent grew over 67 percent. We begin to see the building inequities as a consequence of the demise of the American union movement, as well as tax policy and the types of jobs we are creating.

Now, because I only have 5 minutes, I am going to do this quickly. Let's fast-forward to the era of President Bush, George W. Bush. Look what has happened in terms of real income growth, in terms of 2004 dollars. There has actually been a net decline in the income of the lowest 20 percent, almost 5 percent; the second lowest tier, almost 4 percent; the middle income, people making between $40,000 and $60,000 per family, their real income actually dropped over 2 percent--all the way across the board, everybody but the top 1 percent. You have to have an income roughly of $435,000 to make it into that category. Average salary income in that category is $1.4-plus million per year. That is the only outfit growing, and look at what happened.

If I could superimpose a chart on organized labor, you would see a direct decline; you would see an inverse proportion of what happened. As labor declined, the economic power of corporate America increased, and the power of the wealthiest among us skyrocketed.

It is time to change. Today, just 12 percent of American workers belong to unions, and the spending power of the paycheck is actually lower than it was in 1973. The median income is lower, but productivity is up more than 80 percent since 1973.

It used to be we had a grand bargain in this country. As labor increased productivity, as they did more, as businesses and stockholders were able to benefit from the increased productivity, they benefited. Now it is in inverse proportion. On the sweat and their backs, they have increased productivity, and they have been penalized for it.

Even in my State of Delaware, the hourly wage is down since 2000. The median family income is below its 2000 level. The number of workers represented and protected by unions has fallen from 1 in 4 in 1973 to 1 in 10 today. The basic social compact that built our economy, that built our middle class, that built our country after World War II, has been broken. That compact said if workers produce more, they would share in the gains. Today, that is not true. Unions help to cut that deal, and they kept their end of the bargain. Business and government have not kept their part of the deal.

It is harder now to organize, harder to get a union certified to represent the interests of the workers. It is harder because business is fighting back harder because this administration has launched its own unrelenting attack on the union movement. It is not just pay that has taken a hit. Basic benefits such as health care, pensions--things unions fought for and won--they are, more and more, just a thing of the past.

More and more of the American people have no health insurance--46 million as of last year--a number that just keeps growing. In my State of Delaware there are 100,000 uninsured.

Just imagine the fear, the insecurity, the helplessness that the families must feel, going from day to day--the man lying in bed and the woman lying in bed at night staring at the ceiling, having no insurance, looking over at his pregnant wife, knowing it is a premature child, and they will literally lose their house.

I yield myself 3 more minutes.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. BIDEN. Madam President, a quarter of a century ago, 9 out of 10 American workers could count on a pension plan with a guaranteed payout. They had security in knowing they could pay their bills. Today, only about one-third of Americans are in that shape.

Union membership means more security. The facts are clear. Union jobs earn 30 percent more than nonunion jobs.

We have to stop and reverse the decline of union membership, and that means passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which I have supported from the beginning, and which used to exist.

In Delaware right now the Laborers International Union of North America says the majority of the workers at the Walker International Transportation Company near my home in New Castle, DE, want to join them. They want to join because they need the benefits such as decent health care, pay, and working conditions for which unions have fought. Since May, the union has filed four complaints with the NLRB, complaints that the company is interfering with their organizing efforts.

Under current law, this process could be drawn out indefinitely. They should be able to resolve this with a clear, simple count of cards, certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

The Employee Free Choice Act will make the will of the majority of workers clearer. It will punish employers who break the law, and it will guarantee that new unions will get their first contract, not just another runaround.

It is time to bring the strength of the union movement back within the reach of the American people. It is time to rebuild the middle class by giving organized labor the strength to fight for decent pay and benefits.

My colleagues, it is time for a new social compact, a new social compact because of white-collar workers who never thought they needed a union, and who all of a sudden are finding out their companies are not so generous with them when they walk in and shut down a division and shut them out. I say to my colleagues, I believe American white-collar workers who never thought about the union movement are prepared to think about it now.

I don't want to just reverse the slide of organized labor in America, I want to energize a new compact between white-collar workers and blue-collar workers to give back power to the middle class so this graph you see here from the year 2008 through 2020 looks more like this graph that existed from
1947 to 1973. It is the only way to keep the middle class in the game. They are getting crushed now. They are getting crushed.

I yield the floor, and I thank my colleague for the time.

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