An important cog in rebuilding the American dream

by Jay Ovittore

A rising tide won’t lift all boats if most boatshave holes in them. That’s the verdict on thelast three decades of debt-driven, “trickledown”economics.But most regular people have known theeconomy has been broken since long beforethe latest financial tsunami.Just look at the numbers: Workerproductivity soared over the last 25years, leading to record profits. Andyet, wages have stayed flat. Workingpeople are struggling to stay afloat ashealthcare costs spiral out of control.Foreclosures are at an all-time high.Millions of jobs are gone and millionsmore are at stake.Look at the empty mills throughoutour state that used to produce greatAmerican products and now producedust. So where did all those profits go? Youguessed it: The wealth that we created, ourlife savings and our pensions, were unfairlyused to fund the fairy-tale financial schemesthat were concocted on Wall Street. As itturns out, you can’t really spin straw intogold.Leading economists agree that we’re livingin the worst economic crisis — and thegreatest economic inequality — since theGreat Depression. Last year, the averageCEO made in one workday what the averageworker made in a year, mainly becauseCEOs can negotiate with their companies forwages, healthcare and other benefits. Mostworkers don’t have that option.Stagnant wages and tightening familybudgets have severely restricted the averageworker’s buying power. Small businessesacross thecountryare hurtingbecauseworkers can’tafford to buythe productsthat theyproduce.Accordingto theConference Board, consumer confidence inNorth Carolina has plunged by 70 percentsince February of last year.Already, the new administration hasmoved quickly to stem the crisis, extendinghealthcare to millions of uninsured childrenand funding programs to keep families intheir homes. The president has a plan to reinin corporate excess with new regulations.But, as President Obama has said, we won’tbe able to rebuild the middle class if workingpeople don’t have the freedom to form andjoin unions.Every year, tens of thousands of workersare harassed, intimidated and fired forsupporting a union. Even when workersdo form a union, almost half the timethey won’t receive a collective bargainingcontract, due to delay tactics that are part ofa currently flawed system. A new Gallup poll shows that a solidmajority of Americans support legislationthat would make it easier for workers toform unions and negotiate for better healthcare, wages and job security. Millions ofAmericans want to be able to form and joinunions, but they shouldn’t have to risk theirlivelihoods in the process.That’s why Congress recently introducedthe Employee Free Choice Act, a commonsensepiece of legislation that will letworkers decide how they want to formunions. Workers would be able to choosebetween the two current methods offorming a union — either with an electionor by gathering a majority of signedauthorization cards. The only difference isthat today, the boss gets to make that choicefor you.Instead of going through a typically longand costly ordeal, the Employee Free ChoiceAct will create a level playing field forworkers and management to come to thetable and negotiate a fair contract, a luxurycurrently enjoyed only by management.To be sure, some corporations would ratherkeep things the way they are. A coalition ofpowerful corporate interests — includingseveral bailout recipients — has amassedmillions of dollars to try to defeat this criticallegislation through several front groups. Charlotte’s own Bank of America is one ofthose companies spending your taxpayermoney on fighting to curb your rights as anAmerican worker. But as poll after poll hasshown, their efforts have floundered. Afterall, why would anyone listen to the sameschemers who got us into this mess?Meanwhile, workers and managers athundreds of successful companies likeAT&T and Kaiser have already benefitedfrom the less-divisive majority sign-upprocess when workers expressed their desireto unionize. Unions and businesses haveworked together to set up employee trainingprograms, reduce turnover and improveproduct quality. Recent studies fromthe Economic Policy Institute show thatthese cooperative relationships help localcommunities to prosper, which in turn helpsto stimulate demand for local businesses.That’s how America can succeed in theglobal economy. We won’t be the best bytrying to be cheaper than China. We cannotcontinue racing to the bottom any longer,because there isn’t much further to go.We face job losses, foreclosures and thecontinued outsourcing of jobs due to failedtrade agreements. The only way to defeatthese mountains is to climb them.True wealth comes not from credit cardsand speculation, but hard work. That’swhat the American Dream has always beenabout — and we have a duty to make thatdream a reality once more. The EmployeeFree Choice Act is the key to rebuildingour nation’s middle class and making oureconomy work for all of us. I am a small business owner, and I wantwhat is best for my workers. I acknowledgetheir right to negotiate with me for what isbest for them and their families. All workersshould want that right, but without theEmployee Free Choice Act they will haveonly the dream of that right. As I listen toSen. Richard Burr spread outright lies aboutthis legislation, I can only think he has neverbeen a blue-collar worker. The shoes hewears belong to big business. I urge you allto write to your congressman and senators.Ask them to support this important cog inthe rebuilding of the American Dream. Askthem to support the Employee Free ChoiceAct. Jay Ovittore lives and works inGreensboro.