Friday, July 31, 2009

Paul Begala on Who Needs EFCA

Make the economy work for everyone
By: Paul Begala
July 31, 2009 04:31 AM EST

So here’s the situation. You’re a certified nurse’s assistant, helping seniors get the care they need to live out their final years with dignity. You love your job, but the pay’s terrible, you’re always short-staffed, and the turnover is constant. So you talk to your co-workers and decide you should form a union, to have more of a say in the way things are run. Management’s answer? If you keep speaking out, you’re fired.

Or maybe you work at a metal factory. You’ve worked there for years. Then, one day, you realize that your face is taking on a suspicious blue coloring. And that shiver you thought was just a cold? It’s not going away. You’re terrified to discover the source of your symptoms: Your protective mask at work has cracks in it. You’ve been exposed to dangerous chemicals. When you and your co-workers decide that a union is the best way to make your job a little safer, management announces that they have a plan, too: You’re fired.

Now imagine you’re the CEO of a giant national banking corporation. Things aren’t so hot at the bank these days. But, thank goodness, you have a safety net — tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail you out. On your watch, the stock’s lost more than 80 percent of its value.

And your employees? Most of them barely break the poverty level. Many have difficulty finding affordable health care. Oh, and you just announced that you’re shutting down 10 percent of your branches, laying off untold numbers of hardworking employees. That stinks for them. But for you, things are going swimmingly: In the past three years alone, you’ve raked in nearly $100 million in bonuses and other compensation. $100 million. For sinking a company.

All of these stories are absolutely true. The stories of Trish Miechur, the CNA, and Corey Kresse, the metalworker, are replicated in boardrooms and factories across America. The story of Ken Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO? Well, that’s a familiar one, too. So here’s the question: Why are their experiences so different? Whom do we want our economic policies to benefit?

For eight years under the GOP, economic policy gave CEOs such as Ken Lewis the gold mine, while giving hardworking, middle-class Americans such as Trish and Corey the shaft. President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress were elected to change that, and protecting employees from corporate abuses is part of the change we need. That’s what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.

Corporate lobbyists say the phrase “Employee Free Choice Act” as though it were a curse. But for Trish and Corey, it’s a blessing. The point of the Employee Free Choice Act is to say that we’ve had enough of an economy that works for Ken Lewis — and Bernie Madoff, for that matter. We want an economy that works for Trish Miechur and Corey Kresse.

The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers an opportunity to bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and health care at a time of astounding corporate greed. The legislation has three main parts: 1) It says that when a majority of workers want to form a union, a real path is provided for them to do so — a path chosen by workers, not corporate special interests; 2) it penalizes employers who try to fire or harass workers for attempting to form a union; and 3) it says that once workers have voted for a union, employers have to come to agreement with workers on a contract. Simple stuff, right?
So why are corporate interests squealing like a pig stuck under a gate? Maybe because they’re the only ones who prospered under the Bush-Lewis-Madoff policies.

In 2009, big banks set aside $74 billion in bonuses and other compensation for their executives. With that amount of money, we could balance the budgets in 16 states, including California. Given that the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is less than $5 billion, we could fund the entire war on cancer until 2025. Instead, that money is going solely toward fattening CEO wallets. We need legislation that rebalances the economy and makes it work for everyone.

I’ll let you in on a secret about Employee Free Choice that corporate lobbyists also don’t want you to know: It’s popular. Not only does President Obama support it — so do majorities in both houses of Congress and more than 70 percent of the American people. My only question is: What are we waiting for? Let’s pass the Employee Free Choice Act and get this country moving again.

Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist who served as counselor to the president in the Clinton White House. He is an adviser to the Service Employees International Union.

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

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