It's been an interesting day here at the DLC. This morning we hosted an event featuring an array of top union officials to announce the DLC's endorsement of the labor movement's current top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Speakers at the event included Al From; our chairman, Gov. Tom Vilsack; AFL-CIO president John Sweeney; Change to Win Federation chair Anna Burger; AFSCME president Gerald McEntee; and Steelworkers' Secretary-Treasurer James English.
The EFCA, colloquially known as "card check," would require recognition of unions as collective bargaining agents if a majority of workers in a particular workplace sign verifiable statements supporting the organization of a union. Under current law, employers can (and generally do) request a formal election before recognizing unions, a requirement that often creates long delays, expensive election campaigns, and, because the penalties for illegal employer activities are so light, all sorts of intimidation tactics against pro-union employees, ranging from firings to threats of layoffs and plant closings. This system has contributed materially to the decline of union membership, despite constant polls showing sizeable majorities of workers would join unions if given a fair chance.
The labor movement is making a major push for EFCA this fall, while also seeking to make it a significant campaign issue in Congressional and even state elections. Nearly half of the House, along with 43 senators, are cosponsors, so the timing is right to show a united progressive front on this legislation.
As Gov. Vilsack said at the event:
The DLC has come together today with the nation’s top labor leaders to speak with one voice guarding a worker’s right to choose to join a union without fear or intimidation. We believe that worker protection is a concern to all Americans and will work together to ensure the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. I am pleased we have found common ground on this very important issue and look forward to a productive and on-going dialogue between organizations.
As this last comment indicated, the EFCA endorsement represented the first fruits of a dialogue between the DLC and a broad range of unions on economic issues--a dialogue created by Vilsack along with long-time DLC-supporting unions like the Firefighters and the Sheet Metal Workers (the discussions have also included a recent addition to the ranks of DLC donors, the National Education Association). Having been in some of the discussions, I can tell you that for every issue like trade that divides the DLC from some labor movement representatives, there are quite a few others that unite us, aside from the overriding goal of getting rid of the country's current economic leadership.
And this common ground is not that surprising. Back in 2004, a similar dialogue between the Progressive Policy Institute and a diverse group of union-oriented journalists and policy wonks (convened by Donkey Rising chief Ruy Teixeira and then-PPI veep Rob Atkinson) produced a remarkable joint op-ed by PPI president Will Marshall and American Prospect founding co-editor Bob Kuttner laying out a common economic agenda for the Democratic Party and the country.
Regular readers of this blog probably know I love this sort of stereotype-busting development that serves as a reminder of how much progressives, for all their wrangling, have in common. The Marshall-Kuttner op-ed got very little attention; maybe today's event will be enough of a dog-bites-man story to turn a few heads. --