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Sunshine State Battle Over Employee Free Choice Act Heats Up

March 10, 2009

It's being framed as a battle over the future of the middle class. As the Florida Legislature hammers out a new budget, the Florida AFL-CIO says a proposed constitutional amendment could ultimately affect the household budgets of millions of Florida families.

Rep. Adam Hasner, the District 87 Republican who also is Florida's House majority leader, claims his amendment would protect Floridians' right to vote by secret ballot in union elections. However, it also could block the provisions of the union-backed Employee Free Choice Act, now in Congress.

Rich Templin, communications director for the Florida AFL-CIO, says the federal Act does not deny workers' secret ballots, and is backed by a group of the nation's leading economists.

"The system is broken. It allows workers to have their rights violated, like being fired for trying to collectively bargain in the workplace - so, we've got to fix the system. Unions help build healthy communities. This is a good step to help stimulate the economy and help get this country back on track - and most importantly, to start rebuilding the middle class."

Templin believes the federal legislation is necessary to restore a balance of power in workplaces, giving workers a voice that economists have said is critical to rebuilding the nation's economy. He also points out that Hasner is a board member of "SOS Ballots," a group that has mounted a national campaign to block the Employee Free Choice Act, despite bipartisan support in Congress.

New research from the Center for Economic Policy indicates one in four union elections in U.S. workplaces have been affected by illegal firings of pro-union workers. In 2007, corporations were found guilty of 30,000 incidents of harassing or intimidating workers trying to form unions. Under the current system, there's little to stop them, according to John Schmitt, a CEP senior economist.

"The penalties are very, very limited, and so, it seems like a sensible 'economic investment' to go ahead and just break the law, undermine the campaign, and avoid unionization."

The Employee Free Choice Act would impose tougher penalities for breaking the law. However, with almost 700,000 more jobs cut in February across the country, critics of the Act believe the U.S. cannot afford legislation that would give more power to workers at a time when many employers are struggling to stay in business.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL