2006-03-10 / Columnists

The Progressive

Union Facts, Part I
By John Paul Culotta


A few weeks ago, I saw a full-page advertisement in the New York Times for a new right wing business friendly organization that called itself "Union Facts." Union Facts claims to prove that unions harm American workers by causing businesses to shut down their establishments in this country. The advertisement invited the reader to visit their web site. Many other nationally prominent newspapers also carried the advertisement. It appears the conservative establishment is still afraid to allow workers to organize despite the clear weaknesses of the union movement in this country. Only twelve to thirteen percent of American workers are organized-and most union members work in the public sector. There are many who claim the union movement is moribund. Often, it is claimed that workers in the information service oriented society do not need unions. Although it would appear the conservatives clearly rejoice that the union movement is weak, they feel the need to kick the proverbial dead horse.

I decided to visit their web site. It was state of the art listing all kinds of negative facts regarding unions. Many of the so-called scandals are humorous. Data on the site lists instances of union corruption, unfair labor violations, and violent activity and discrimination that the center claims unions engage in. One of the examples of discrimination is regarding the Davis Bacon Act passed by Congress in 1934. This act requires construction firms that obtain federal dollars to pay prevailing wages for the locality. It is cited that this law was passed for racist reasons- remember it was in 1934. At the time, construction firms would use African Americans as a tool to weaken the prevailing wages paid. As a result, Davis Bacon is a racist law because union leaders claimed the act would uphold wage standards for white workers. Union officials and unions were and may still be racist, but all major American organizations have been racist in the past. We now see in the recovery effort in the Gulf Region, that Davis Bacon has been suspended by this administration. As a result, American corporations have deemed it to be more profitable to use undocumented workers from the Spanish speaking countries of the southern hemisphere. Jesse Jackson has commented on this fact on the radio. Americans of all races and of different national origins are denied work in the area where they live because businesses use ethnic competition as a vehicle to suppress wages paid. Ethnic division and competition may actually lessen when people unite for a common cause such as a decent wage and a safe workplace. No other organization can accomplish this for all as effectively as a democratic corruption free union.

American workers should be aware that major corporations and government entities also engage in corrupt activity, unfair labor practices, violence, and racial and ethnic discrimination. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no full-page advertisements and a clever web site listing these essential facts that everyone should be aware of. Outsourcing, corrupt lobbying of Congress and local legislators, the cooking of books, exorbitant wage paid to executives, the use and abuse of undocumented workers have destroyed the social fabric and glue that hold the nation together. We cannot worship gold, silver, and greenbacks and consider greed a virtue. This will destroy any degree of equality and fairness that we had in the past. Enron, the savings and loan scandal, contracts given to the politically connected, the abuse of people who come to these shores for economic reasons must become a part of our past.

America can only be America when all can benefit from its wealth and power. Workers in this country do not have the luxury of leaving their health and safety issues to elected officials. It is clear the Bush II administration is too pro business to have an effective workplace safety policy. On March 2, 2006 The New York Times reported: " In its drive to foster a more cooperative relationship with mining companies- the Bush administration has decreased major fines for safety violations since 2001 and in nearly half the cases, it has not collected the fines, according to a data analysis by The New York Times." The newspaper went to say: "Federal records also show that in the last two years the federal mine safety agency has failed to hand over delinquent cases to the Treasury Department for further collection efforts, as is supposed to occur after 180 days." Workers need labor organizations that seek to ensure a decent standard of living. Defined benefit pension plans are now under attack.

We want to maintain our social system of a decent retirement and adequate health care for American workers. Corporations and government are attacking the social contract established after the Second World War to ensure adequate health care and a decent retirement.

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