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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs




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In need of real labor reform


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By Ray Marshall and Robert Reich

 

A combination of personal greed, individual irresponsibility and unsustainable financial conditions caused the meltdown that has wreaked havoc on our economy. For far too long, Americans' productivity increased, but their wages did not. Many hoped that one day their fortunes would improve, and in the interim dug themselves into a mountain of debt. Unfortunately, many greedy Wall Street executives and speculators happily made it all too convenient for them to do so, leading to a burst in the bubble economy we had all grown so accustomed to.

A vital component of our nation's recovery is making sure that we don't return to a bubble-and-bust economy, where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class gets squeezed. In addition to many of the regulations and measures President Barack Obama and Congress have taken to prevent this financial collapse from happening again, the economy we are rebuilding must be a sustainable one. That starts with good-paying, secure jobs.

Long-term economic growth requires consumers to have the purchasing power necessary to buy the goods and services small and large businesses provide.
 

We can simply take a chapter in the history of our own nation to understand what it will take to make the American dream available for everyone again. The years following

saw the largest increase in union membership in U.S. history, and along with it came increased productivity and shared prosperity. We can repeat this, but we must reform our obsolete labor laws so workers can join unions without the roadblocks so many face.

The principles that are the foundation of the Employee Free Choice Act -- giving workers a direct path to form unions, toughening penalties against employers who break the law and helping workers secure a first contract in a reasonable period of time -- are ones we must never waiver on.The reasons are clearly obvious. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act extended the basic right for workers to organize and bargain collectively, yet it has failed to keep up with the massive union-busting campaigns by big business over the past several decades.

Intimidation, harassment and other illegal activity are rampant in many workplaces across the nation. This is simply unacceptable. The Employee Free Choice Act is a vehicle for the kind of labor law reforms so many in Congress, and so many Americans, support. Public polling has found that when asked whether it should be easier for workers to form unions to bargain for better pay, benefits and job security, an overwhelming majority of respondents support such a measure.

In this economy, people should be able to bargain, not beg, their way into the middle class.

Ray Marshall was labor secretary from 1977 to 1981 in the Carter administration and Robert Reich was labor secretary from 1993 to 1997 in the Clinton administration.

Copyright 2009 The Chicago Tribune

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