That Washington

Rossi Says Murray Would Jeopardize Workers' Rights.

By Josh Feit June 9, 2010

Dino Rossi's new spokeswoman, Jennifer Morris, has certainly arrived. Still settling into town this week (she's a former top staffer for Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY), Morris fired off a blistering press release this morning listing a series of Sen. Patty Murray's votes—yea bailouts, yea stimulus package, yea raising the debt ceiling, yea health care bill—that Dino Rossi says are bad for the economy, and in particular, bad for jobs. (The release is headlined: "If Patty Murray Is Fighting Unemployment, Unemployment is Winning.")

Starting with Murray's vote for the $700 billion bank bailout in the October 2008, the Rossi press release tracks Washington state's unemployment rate from November 2008 (6.4 percent) to now (9.5 percent).

“Patty Murray has an 18-year record on spending, taxing, and growing government that is indefensible,” Rossi said in the press release.  “Our country and our state are suffering because of the misguided policies Senator Murray has pursued. We need to change course, and get government back under control so we can create jobs and put our country back on track.”

But the legislation on the list that was most damning was not the economic stuff (the cause and effect there seems debatable). The biggest slam on Sen. Murray, it seemed to me, was legislation she co-sponsored that, the release said, would "do away with private ballots for workers in labor union elections."

Whoa. Really?

The bill the Rossi release is referring to is something Sen. Ted Kennedy introduced in 2009, the Employee Free Choice Act, that Sen. Murray, along with 40 other Senators, Sen. Maria Cantwell included, are co-sponsoring.

The bill actually maintains a secret ballot election (which workers can demand if they get 30 percent of employees to sign a petition saying they want an election). The Kennedy proposal changes the way a second route to unionization works.

Currently, if workers meet a higher standard— over 50 percent of workers signing the petition—they can unionize without an election unless management challenges and calls for one. The EFCA would take away management's right to call for an election in the 50 percent scenario. This is intended to remedy what unions see as an unfair management advantage. Unions believe management has an advantage in elections because the employer holds all the cards in the workplace (thus the desire to unionize).

For example, the company can hold "captive" or mandatory meetings and managers can send strong messages given that they call the shots on raises, hours, workload, and promotions. A union election can turn a workplace into a pretty treacherous scene for workers. The higher 50 percent standard was intended to level the playing field by giving workers the option of demonstrating majority support up front and forgoing an election process.

Sen. Murray's spokeswoman Alex Glass says:

"[The Employment Free Choice Act] simply adds majority sign up as a second option for workers to form a union which gives workers the choice about which method they prefer.

Senator Murray believes that one of the best ways to jump-start our economy is to put money back in workers pockets and rebuild the middle class. That means fair wages, and good benefits. Increasing access to organized labor is critical to that effort."

Morris, assuming that a union would never move forward at the lower 30 percent standard, maintains: "It [EFCA] takes away the workers’ right to vote by secret ballot."
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