Senate Democrats

Reid: Giving Workers Free Choice To Organize Ensure Higher Wages, Better Benefits

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate today in support of the Employee Free Choice Act:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: ‘It is one of the characteristics of a free and democratic nation that it have free and independent labor unions.’  Roosevelt’s New Deal lifted America through the Great Depression by showing us that the rights of working people can go hand in hand with economic growth.  His call for equality and basic fairness guaranteed our country a permanent workforce of skilled, trained and professional employees.

“But now, 70 years later, for too many Americans, the New Deal has become a raw deal.  Today in America, hourly wages are down while the number of uninsured is up.  Today in America, household income is down while the average CEO pay is a staggering, record-shattering 411 times higher than the pay of the average working person.

“This has happened – in part – because, to use a term from Las Vegas, the boss holds all the chips.  I rise to offer a motion to proceed on the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that will level the playing field.  It is unquestioned that when employees join labor unions, their standard of living improves and they become more productive employees.  It’s win-win for employers and employees alike.

“Yet too often, some employers coerce, harass and threaten their employees to keep them from organizing – and our current laws give employees little recourse when that happens.  The Employee Free Choice Act puts the choice to organize squarely on the shoulders of the employees – which is exactly where it belongs.  This bill requires employers to recognize the formation of a union when a majority of employees express their support by signing authorization cards.  It gives both sides the right to bring in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to mediate the first contract once a union is formed.  And it enforces stronger penalties for companies that interfere with the right to organize.

“Providing American workers with free choice will ensure access to higher wages and better benefits.  That means more working families will have good health care and will be able to save up for college and retirement.  And they will be guaranteed fair benefits, like vacation time, a reasonable work day and better on-the-job safety.  This is particularly true for African Americans, Latinos and women.

“There are some who claim that is a political vote – a gesture to labor.  I can only venture to guess that those people don’t understand what this bill is all about: it’s an honest attempt to help improve the lives of Americans who often work the hardest and are rewarded the least.  Opponents of this bill see it differently.  Lobbyists for big-business argue that the status quo National Labor Relations Board secret-ballot election works just fine.  But the fact of the matter is the status quo is often unfair and undemocratic.  Big business wields tremendous power in secret balloting, and too often, they use that power abusively.  Big business controls the pay checks of the voters and livelihoods of labor.  Big business sets the work schedule and terms of employment.  And big business has a captive audience and unfiltered audience to voters. 

“All of us, save our new colleague, Senator Barrasso, have earned a place in the Senate through election.  But I guarantee you that in each of our elections, if our opponents controlled 100 percent of the information that voters received, none of us would be here.  There is nothing more democratic than a level playing field. 

“For those who are skeptical of this legislation, let me remind you that it is already working.  The NLRB already permits the use of majority sign-up or card check as it’s often described.  For example, in my home state of Nevada – a state where business and labor work together – most union organizing drives are implemented through majority sign-up. 

“And let me be clear: this bill does nothing to limit employee options in right-to-work states like Nevada, nor does it eliminate secret ballot elections.  It simply gives employees the choice to determine their path to union representation.

“Skeptics of this bill should look to Nevada to see that labor organizing does not have to be adversarial.  The Employee Free Choice Act will be good for both sides.  This bill will help provide the fair, square deal to working people that President Roosevelt first promised 70 years ago – and it will keep our economy strong and competitive.  I encourage all of my colleagues to join me in supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.”