Montanans should all be gravely concerned by the most recent actions of Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg to undermine worker rights, job training and higher education in America.
It is a well-known fact that America’s working people have never been more under siege.
Unemployment rates continue to be at historic highs. Wages and benefits have stagnated to a point that America’s middle class is evaporating. Relative to their peers in the 1950s to the 1970s, today’s middle class is almost unrecognizable. Relative wage earnings have fallen, defined benefit pension systems are increasingly rare, health care benefits have dramatically decreased and costs have sky-rocketed. At the same time, people are working more hours, in many cases for multiple employers, for much lower wages just to survive.
This is not a coincidence. Occurring right along with this trend has been a growing attack on the rights of workers to organize and seek representation through a labor union. The link between the decline of workers’ rights to organize and the well-being of middle-class American workers has never been more obvious.
What may not be understood is that the rights of workers to unionize have been the target of a concerted and systematic effort by corporate America and political leaders on the right since the 1980s. Now, Montana’s only representative in the U.S. House, Congressman Dennis Rehberg, has heeled to out-of-state corporate masters and entered the fray. In doing so, he is pushing an agenda that isn’t an issue in our state and clearly illustrates that he has totally lost touch with Montana.
Rehberg recently introduced a budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Labor packed with anti-union riders that make it harder for workers to organize. Rehberg’s bill would forbid the National Labor Relations Board from enforcing laws that allow newly formed bargaining units to gain a foothold before being challenged. It would also exempt small businesses from the board’s jurisdiction (effectively abolishing worker’s rights in an entire sector of employment) and prohibit workers from using an electronic system to vote in union elections. It would eliminate the rights of small groups of workers to form their own bargaining unit. It would also eliminate the requirement that employers post a notice informing employees of their rights to organize. Worst of all, Rehberg’s budget proposal would cut the NLRB’s budget by 17 percent in an attempt to delay or eliminate the ability of workers to organize new units or challenge unfair or illegal actions by employers.
Montana has a proud tradition of recognizing the inherent value and dignity of work. As such, Montana has long placed a high value on the rights of workers to have a voice and basic protections on the job. Rehberg’s proposal abandons these Montana values to curry favor with corporate America and far-right elements of his own party in an election year. Rep. Rehberg’s proposal also cuts funds for Pell grants for part-time students and eliminates job training programs for American workers in green technologies. Higher education and job training for displaced workers should be amongst our nation’s highest priorities in times of continued economic uncertainty.
We are living in a world where corporate CEOs make, on average, 400 times what the average worker earns. In 2011, the income of top corporate CEOs increased by 28 percent at the same time that we had more American workers living in poverty than at any other time in the last 40 years (46 million or 1 in 6 Americans). Three of the top 10 highest paid CEO’s run pharmaceutical and medical services businesses. What is Rehberg doing about it? He works to make it harder for workers to negotiate better health insurance.
What does Rehberg hope to gain by attacking the rights of workers? Simply put its campaign contributions from a bunch of out-of-state and international corporations that couldn’t care less about Montana working families. We call on Congressman Rehberg to drop these hurtful and thoughtless attacks on America’s workers.
(This column was co-authored by Al Ekblad, executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO; Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT; and Montana AFL-CIO executive board members Jacquie Helt (SEIU), Quint Nyman (LiUNA), John Forkan (UA), Timm Twardoski (AFSCME), Fran Marceau (UTU), Keith Allen (IBEW), Kim Rickard (LiUNA), Jerry Rukavina (MEA-MFT), Lee Anne Gills (MPEA), Ed Logan (USW), Tammy Pilcher (MEA-MFT) and Doug Neil (IAFF).)