|March 12, 2009|
THE CAMPAIGN IS UNDERWAY
Florida's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, and March and April are when the governor and the legislature work out their plans for the coming fiscal year. So that's when everyone who wants to influence the budget visits Tallahassee.
The Florida Education Association kicked off its campaign with a Make Our Schools a Priority Rally at the UCF Arena in Orlando on February 28, when six thousand teachers heard FEA President Andy Ford say, "Time and again, voters have gone to the polls to say they want education to be a priority. And (lawmakers) continue to ignore the will of the people...It's time to tell them, 'No more delays. Just do it.'" And Ford's predecessor, current Chair of the Broward county school board Maureen Dinnen said, "We cannot let our public school system be starved out of business." And Florida PTA president Karin Brown said, "Our legislators have actually said they haven't heard from our parents...We want our roar to be so loud, they'll hear us all the way down to Key West."
The legislative session opened on March 3, and was promptly greeted by a rally of more than a thousand students and faculty, mostly from FSU and FAMU, but with many visitors from the rest of the state. Governor Crist told the legislature that, "The strength of Florida’s economy is dependent upon a workforce able to compete in an increasingly global economy. Our 28 community colleges are already recognized as the number one in the U.S. and I am committed to giving our universities the resources they need to be among the best in the nation."
For the next few weeks, we will continue to press the issues: educational funding is the fastest way to pump money into the economy, faculty-student ratios are already disastrous as the universities continue to hemorrhage faculty, for many young (and not-so-young) Floridians the alternative to enrollment is unemployment, educational funding as a share of the state budget has been shrinking, and we can raise the necessary funding by ending tax loopholes and giveaways. For details, see the UFF's Talking Points page.
ORGANIZING AGAINST THE WIND
In the beginning, unions were simply illegal. Legality crept in slowly, with little judicial and legislative steps, until finally Congress passed laws in the late 1920s and early 1930s legalizing picketing, strikes, and boycotts.
But the biggest fight of all was over the ability to organize, period. After all, if a union has organized a bargaining unit, and has established a relationship with management, both sides have learned to get along and neither has a particular interest in destroying the other. Unless some outside force (like a new CEO with something to prove) mandates a battle, union and management tend to concentrate on the quieter business of checks and balances.
The critical period runs from the beginning of the organizing campaign to the ratification of the first contract. Nowadays, about a fourth of all organizing campaigns see campaigners fired (about one-fifth of all pro-union activists are fired during this period) even though it is illegal to fire an employee for trying to organize a union. Half of all companies facing organizing campaigns threaten to shut down if the campaign succeeds (although only 1 % carry out the threat). And even if the campaign succeeds and the employees get union representation, the odds of getting a contract are just over one in two.
Nowadays, firms specialize in blocking organizing campaigns. In the bad old days, companies hired Pinkerton to bust heads; in this modern, more civilized era, companies hire men and women in power suits who are skilled in genteel menace and not breaking any laws – or rather, not breaking any laws the National Labor Relations Board is inclined to enforce. One law that the NLRB is apparently not inclined to enforce is the rather toothless law against firing employees who engage in union activities: approximately 30 % of all employers facing an organizing campaign fire employees for union activism. Apparently the threat of being forced to reinstate employees with back pay is an insufficient deterrent (see a study by American Rights at Work for more depressing details).
Peremptory and unlawful dismissal is the most forceful of a palette of intimidation tools used by employers, so perhaps it is not surprising that even though 78 % of the public supports the right of union representation, and approximately sixty million American workers would like to join unions now, there are only 16.1 million union members in America. Many union activists are convinced that unions fail because their members are intimidated, and that is why there is a growing campaign for a new law.
The Employee Free Choice Act of 2007 was proposed to:
In 2007 the Act passed the House but was filibustered in the Senate. See the Biweekly's article at the time.
On March 10, the Act was again presented to Congress, sponsored by 40 senators and 220 representatives. Just like last time, the most controversial part is about certification.
At the American Federation of Teachers National Higher Education Issues Conference last week, AFT President Randi Weingarten argued that the issue wasn't over the secret ballot – employees retain the same access to the secret ballot that they had before – but what right the employer had to interfere with union organizing by using the ballot as a delaying device. And delay can be useful to an employer who uses a strategy of erosive intimidation.
With a friendly president in office and a more Democratic Congress, the supporters of the Act are back. Many are convinced that the future of unions – and of the unions' creation, the American middle class – is at stake. During the past few decades, the American Middle Class has lost ground amidst a massive transfer of wealth from the Middle Class to the Upper Class. Horace Walpole's old notion of a Balance of Power seems to be coming back into fashion. "A rising tide lifts all boats only when labor and management bargain on relatively equal terms. In recent decades, most bargaining power has resided with management," complains a petition by leading economists posted by the Economic Policy Institute ; their conclusion is that, "The Employee Free Choice Act is not a panacea, but it would restore some balance to our labor markets." For more on the act, see the site maintained by the Political Economy Research Institute.