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VIDEO –  Senator Murray's Speech  

(Washington, D.C) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) voiced her support for the Employee Free Choice Act, S. 1041 in a speech on the Senate floor. Senator Murray is a co-sponsor of the legislation. 

In her speech Murray called on Congress to "stand with our nation's workers and give them their voice back by strengthening protections for workers to freely choose to join a union." 

"The Employee Free Choice Act will make the promise of employee choice a reality and will restore balance to the relationship between employers and employees," Murray said.

The Employee Free Choice Act allows workers to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions by restoring workers’ freedom to choose for themselves whether to join a union. Specifically, the bill:

  • Allows employees to choose a union when a majority of workers sign cards endorsing the union.
  • Provides a time frame around first contract negotiations to prevent employers from stalling the negotiation process.
  • Strengthens penalties for employers that break the law when workers seek to form a union or during first-contract negotiations.

The following is the text (as prepared) of Senator Murray's floor speech:

Mr. President, I rise today to voice my support for workers, their families, and their right to share in the prosperity they helped create for this country. As Chairwoman of the Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, protecting workers' rights is a critical priority for me.

In last year's election, we all heard the voice of America's voters calling for change.  I'm proud to say that Democrats have been working hard to help working Americans and their families secure a better future, and we're making progress.

We recently passed legislation increasing the minimum wage, the first increase in a decade.  For the first time in 10 years, many Americans have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.  We're moving in the right direction.   

But our work doesn't end there, Mr. President.  Now it's time to help workers by ensuring that their voices are heard in the workplace --

  •     Voices for better benefits, 
  •     Voices for better wages,
  •     Voices for better health care,
  •     And voices for better pensions.

Unfortunately, today, in too many workplaces, workers who try to exercise their legal rights are blocked by an unbalanced system that can trap them in unacceptable working conditions. 

It's time for Congress to stand with our nation's workers and give them their voice back by strengthening protections for workers to freely choose to join a union.

The Employee Free Choice Act will make the promise of employee choice a reality and will restore balance to the relationship between employers and employees.  I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this important and balanced legislation.  

This Bill Is Needed

Mr. President, why is this bill necessary?   Because workers should be able to share in the prosperity they helped create. This bill is an important step in helping millions of working families get their fair share of the economic pie.

Our nation's greatest assets are our people.  American workers drive our economy.  Their determination for a better future bolsters our nation's prosperity. That's why I was so concerned to learn that workers feel the "American Dream" is slipping away from them.  According to a poll conducted earlier this year by the Change to Win Federation, 82 percent of those surveyed said that they believe "working families are falling behind."  

I find this troubling, Mr. President, given that worker productivity has increased 3.1% each year between 2000 and 2004 and that corporate profits have more than doubled since 2001.  

It just doesn't add up for American workers and their families.  They're working hard to help our country prosper but not reaping their fair share of the benefits.   

Unions Make a Profound Difference

But unions can make a positive difference.  They allow workers to collectively express their voices to employers on working conditions, healthcare, pensions, and other benefits.  And the benefits lead to better lives for working Americans. Women who belong to a union earn 31% more than women workers who are not union members.  That's an extra $179 a week, and $9,300 more every year. 

Think about it…an extra $179 could help working mothers put more food on the table for her family.   It could help her pay for her son or daughter's education.  It could help her put a little more away for retirement, making her and her family less dependent on Social Security.

Workers who are union members are twice as likely to have employer health coverage.  Union families that pay insurance premiums for their coverage pay 36% less than their counterparts, saving them almost $1,300 a year.

With the enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act, it's estimated that up to a quarter of a million workers and their families in my home State of Washington would participate in their employers' health insurance plans.  That's a step in the right direction for the 866,000 Washington State residents who were uninsured in 2005.

They are also more likely to have guaranteed pensions.  68% of unionized workers are covered compared to only 14% of non-union workers.

The AFL-CIO estimates that up to 250,000 Washington State workers would participate in their employers' defined-benefit pension plans with the passage of this bill.    

Workers recognize the benefits that unions offer them.  In fact, 53% of U.S. workers say they would join a union if they could [ AFL-CIO ]. Clearly, unions empower their members to access better benefits and provide a better life for their families. 

Unions Help All of Us

But what about other workers, those who don't belong to a union?  Are unions beneficial for the rest of us?  The answer is an emphatic yes.

Unions have forged the way for millions of working families -- union and non-union -- to share in the prosperity they helped create. Progressive employment policies such as the minimum wage, the 8 hour work day, the 40 hour work week, employer-provided health care, and pension plans emerged from the labor movement and have become the standard in today's workplace. I think we can all agree that unions benefit our society as a whole.  I'm sure the 60 million U.S. workers who say they would join a union if they could think so, too. 

Why is union membership declining when so many workers want to join and unions clearly benefit all of us?  As it turns out, exercising your right to organize with other workers isn't an easy task under our current system.

Problems With The Current System

Mr. President, the system is broken.  We all know that a fair labor market can only exist when employers and employees have a respected voice in the system.  I'm sorry to say that's not the case today.  

Some unscrupulous employers are silencing employees who try to join a union to better their economic situation for their families, and that's not fair.  

Under current law, workers who want to join a union use the majority sign up method to let the union know they're interested.  Then, employers have the power to make a choice. 

They can choose to recognize their employees' wishes, and many progressive employers do, or, they can demand a NLRB election, stalling the process and silencing the voices of their employees. During the election process, employers have unlimited access to workers in the workplace.  They can require workers to attend mass meetings to hear anti-union messages and even require one-on-one meetings between supervisors and employees.  And, under our country's labor laws, these practices are perfectly legal.   

Mr. President, I think we can all understand how intimidating these tactics can be.  More often than not, employers create an unfriendly work environment where employees don't feel comfortable discussing unions or their benefits.  In many cases they fear for their livelihood, and rightfully so.  Unlike the peer relationship between co-workers, employers hold a special position of power over their employees.  Employers have power over a worker's wages and benefits and, ultimately, they can fire an employee. 

A recent analysis from the National Labor Relations Board shows that 1 in 5 union supporters are illegally fired for union activity during the organizing campaign. Too often, workers who clearly voice their desire for representation have been silenced by their employers.

On the other hand, unions do not have access to workers while on the job.  They are not allowed to enter the workplace at any time to meet with employees.  Employees interested in learning about union membership must meet with representatives and employees on their own time.

The Employee Free Choice Act does nothing to change this relationship.  It does not limit the access employers have to workers.  And, it doesn't expand the union's access to employees on the job. If employees make it through this obstacle and elect to form a union, the ordeal's not over yet.  Bad faith employers can drag out the initial negotiations process, often for years, using the time and their unlimited access to employees on the job to convince them that unions are a bad idea. 

It's easy to see who holds most of the cards in this relationship.  Workers shouldn't have to risk their livelihoods to exercise their right to form a union.  But it happens all the time.

Hardworking Americans shouldn't have to go through such an ordeal to form a union.  The Employee Free Choice Act can help eliminate some of the unfair barriers that workers face and make it easier for them to organize.

How does this bill address the problem?

The Employee Free Choice Act can make a difference.  It can help workers gain a respected voice in the conversation with employers, and it can penalize bad faith actors who break the law.

1. Gives employees the choice of using the majority sign-up option

First, the bill ensures that employees who want to organize can do so without interference.  By allowing employees to choose majority sign up, the Employee Free Choice Act gives workers their voice back.  

2. Puts a timeframe around first contract negotiations

Second, this bill ensures there's time for reasonable negotiations, but it does not allow one side to act in bad faith and string employees along in a never-ending process that's designed to block their ability to self-organize.

3. Strengthens penalties for employers that break the law

Third, this bill will hold bad actors accountable if they break the law.  According to "American Rights at Work," every 23 minutes in America, an employer fires or retaliates against a worker for their union activity. 

We shouldn't tolerate illegal discrimination and retaliation against workers who are just trying to exercise their rights.  If an employer violates the rights of its employees and is charged by the National Labor Relations Board, this bill will impose stricter penalties. It balances the playing field by requiring that the NLRB stop bad faith employers from interfering in a union campaign or contract negotiations. 

It puts teeth in the current law by making employers who break the law pay three times back pay and imposes civil penalties for unfairly discriminating against pro-union workers. This will ensure that breaking the law doesn’t just become part of "the cost of doing business."

What This Bill Does Not Do

Mr. President some would have us believe that the Employee Free Choice Act radically changes the rules of the game or takes away employers' rights.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, it does not eliminate the secret ballot.  I'm pleased that this bill gives employees the opportunity to vote by secret ballot if they so choose.  For too long, some employers have had control over the balloting process, and this bill gets the balance right by making sure employees have the free choice to use a secret ballot or majority sign up.

Second, it does not create a new process.  Some would have us believe this bill upsets the current system by creating a new process for forming a union.  But majority sign up has always been allowable under the law.  Today, some progressive employers voluntarily recognize their employees' choice to organize.      

Third, it does not trap employees into union membership.  Opponents of this bill would also have us believe that allowing employees to choose majority sign up as their preferred method for choosing a union would lead to union coercion or would trap other workers into union contracts against their will.  That's not true.

Let's look at the facts about coercion and intimidation.

American Rights at Work found that anti-union behavior is widespread among some employers.  Among those employers faced with a union campaign:

  • 30% of employers fire pro-union workers.
  • 49% of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers attempt to form a union, although only 2% actually do.
  • 51% of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism. Both are illegal.
  • 82% of employers faced with an organizing campaign hire union-busting consultants to stop union campaigns.
  • 91% of employers force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.

Some would have us believe that unions can be just as bad, but the data doesn't back that up, Mr. President.  

In her testimony before a House committee earlier this year, Nancy Schiffer, an attorney with AFL-CIO, told us that they had reviewed 113 cases cited by the HR Policy Association as "involving" fraud and coercion. 

They found that only 42 decisions actually identified coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the signing of union authorization forms – and that's since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.   That’s less than 1 case per year. 

Compare that "1 case a year" with the more than 31,000 cases filed in 2005 alone of employers engaging in illegal firings and other discrimination against workers for exercising their right to form a union.  Clearly, unions have proven to be good faith actors in this process.

Fourth, it does not change an employer's free speech or property rights.  One thing this bill does not change is the access to employees that exists today.  Currently, employers have full access to employees during the workday. Unions do not.  This bill leaves that relationship unchanged.

Finally, it does not bankrupt or harm businesses.  Opponents to this bill would also have us believe allowing workers the free choice of forming a union would be bad for business or would bankrupt employers.  Again, Mr. President, nothing could be further from the truth.

We know that majority sign up can work for employers and employees because it's already happening for some progressive employers.  Take Cingular Wireless, now known as AT&T, for example.

In my home state of Washington, we've seen proof that companies can remain competitive and profitable and still follow the law and respect worker rights. 

Cingular Wireless gave its workers in Bothell, Washington the free choice they're entitled to.  As a result, nearly 1,000 workers in my hometown decided to organize, and Cingular won praise for its responsible, respectful approach to employee choice.

Today, the company continues to be one of the top wireless providers in the country.  Choosing to respect their employees' choice to unionize did not bankrupt them or make them any less competitive. 

Mr. President, this bill helps us find the right balance in relationship between workers and management.  I hope that my colleagues will join with me in raising our voices in support of workers and their families by voting yes on this bill.