The Heritage Foundation posted a paid advertisement yesterday on YouTube’s homepage claiming that in the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) workers only hear “the union organizer’s side.” The infomercial tells viewers that worker enthusiasm for union membership drops off from the time of the initial card check to the time of electing a union, but it leaves out the tactics management uses to scare and cajole workers not to join a union in the first place. The Heritage Foundation deployed 21st Century “new media” technology to make its case for a return to 19th Century labor practices.
The YouTube spot comes complete with re-enactments, dramatizations, and testimonials about “dishonest” people who harass innocent workers to join unions. At one point viewers can see someone banging on the front door of a modest suburban home demanding the worker sign on. The passage of EFCA, the Heritage video states, “will allow union organizers to deceive, harass, and threaten workers into signing these cards to form a Union.”
“The Employee Free Choice Act,” the Heritage Foundation video continues, “would replace secret ballot organizing elections with publicly signed union cards.” How many times can anti-union organizations, corporations, and individuals get away with repeating this tired old lie? EFCA simply ads the card check to the secret ballot election as another option for workers.
And then the video’s alarming conclusion: “Card Check is not a fact-based process it’s an emotional process.” The ad trivializes worker grievances as if the only reason why any worker would ever want to join a union is based on petty “emotional” problems with co-workers or management. In an era of wholesale violations of existing labor law, from retail to mines to food production, this portrayal of workers’ concerns in the workplace as largely imaginary is insulting and cold-hearted. Very 19th Century.
Millions of non-unionized workers in this country each day hear bosses, managers, or “labor relations consultants” screaming at them not to join a union, promising them that they’ll be fired if they join, or that they’ll be passed up for promotion if they join, or that they’ll suffer the wrath of their employers and co-workers if they join, or that they aren’t being “team players” if they join, or that they’ll lose their “special favors” if they join, or that they’re threatening the wellbeing of their families and their fellow workers’ families because if the union is formed the company is going to shut its doors and move to a non-union location, and so on, and on, and on.
The people at the Heritage Foundation know exactly what they’re doing. They frame the EFCA issue based on bald-faced lies. Business-financed “think tanks” like Heritage propagandize workers against their own interests in psychologically sophisticated ways, often pulling on their heartstrings and framing their anti-union stance as “common sense.” The Heritage Foundation’s YouTube infomercial is as blatant and dishonest as any propaganda ever to come from a totalitarian government.
With the economy in shambles we need to increase the buying power of workers. We must put upward pressure on wages to spur and sustain consumption. The Employee Free Choice Act is one way to stimulate consumption for the long-term health of the American economy. President Barack Obama’s economic platform will have little chance for success without this vital labor reform that will help increase union membership and with it the real wages of millions of American workers. The Employee Free Choice Act is our era’s Wagner Act.
Wages have been stagnant or declining now for the past 30 years and the buying power of the average American worker has plummeted. Meanwhile, the average CEO now makes about 450 times the average entry-level worker. The income and wealth disparities between the super rich and the working middle class are at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. The Heritage Foundation might ask itself just what “heritage” it is defending? The “heritage” of children in factories, twelve-hour workdays, Pinkertons and scabs?
It’s insulting to see the CNBC moneygrubbers and other corporate shills wondering aloud why consumers aren’t spending or why they racked up so much debt. They will never acknowledge the fact that this occurred because of stagnant or declining real wages for most workers and that it is the direct result of the assault on union membership we’ve endured for 30 years.
The right to organize independent labor unions and to collectively bargain is what built the American middle class. The Heritage Foundation would like to take away that right. On EFCA, Heritage’s YouTube infomercial shows that corporate America has reached the point of hyperventilation. This labor reform will help put money in the pockets of millions of ordinary working Americans. Why else would the corporate response be so shrill? It’s time to fight back and honor the struggles of our grandparents and great grandparents for the eight-hour day, the weekend, overtime pay, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, and health and safety in the work place. It’s time to take labor relations into 21st Century.
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Originally published by The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.