President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said: "Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join a union of their choice."
Eisenhower was a tough-as-nails general in World War II, a two-term commander-in-chief who presided over one of our nation's most prosperous and vibrant decades. In supporting the freedom for America's working women and men to form unions, Eisenhower understood that booming productivity, robust wages and access to the middle class stemmed from a strong labor movement.
And Eisenhower was a Republican.
So why did Republican lawmakers in the Senate this week nearly unanimously oppose a bill that would have updated our nation's antiquated labor laws and leveled the playing field for U.S. employees to form unions?
With the exception of Sen. Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, Republican senators on Tuesday blocked a move to bring the Employee Free Choice Act to a floor vote. By a 51-48 majority, all Democrats, both Independents and Specter voted to end debate on the bill, which needed a "super majority" of 60 votes.
In the debate on the Senate floor, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell repeated the blatant lie that the Employee Free Choice Act would have taken away the secret ballot election from workers seeking to form unions. In fact, it would have given workers seeking to join unions more options by adding the majority sign-up (card-check) process. Under Employee Free Choice, workers could choose between the majority sign-up process and the government-run election process.
Specter had it correct when he said the long delays between the time an election is held and the time the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acts makes the whole process "dysfunctional." Specter went on to say: "The NLRB takes so long to act that the election becomes moot -- it no longer matters any more. When you look at what the NLRB does, it is totally ineffective."
More than half of U.S. workers -- 60 million -- say they would join a union right now if they could. But the labor law system is so broken they can't exercise that right. Last year, more than 31,000 workers had their union rights violated by their employers.
The vitriol expressed by McConnell, Mike Enzi from Wyoming and other Republicans on the Senate floor in opposition to ensuring America's workers have a chance to move into -- or remain in -- the middle class is breathtaking in its extremism. Rather than express sympathy for America's workers and reach out to them -- many of whom are among the nation's 43.6 million without health care coverage and half of whose employers offer no pension plans -- these senators made jokes at their expense.
Characterizing workers as "Joe the leg breaker" and using other demeaning, degrading descriptions, these senators showed they are not made of the same fiber as an Eisenhower.
In blocking the Employee Free Choice Act from a final vote, 48 Republican senators voted to perpetuate a system in which private-sector employers illegally fire employees for union activity at least 25 percent of the time they seek to form unions.
In obstructing the Employee Free Choice Act, these Republican senators seek to deny America's employees the chance to raise their wages -- union workers earn 30 percent more than nonunion workers--and retire with the knowledge they don't have to keep working full time: 80 percent of union workers are covered by pension plans versus 47 percent of nonunion workers.
And in rejecting the will of the people -- 69 percent of Americans say they support the Employee Free Choice Act -- these Republicans demonstrated how out of touch they are with America's mainstream, with the millions of employees who seek to improve their lives and those of their families, and with the best traditions of their own party.
America's workers have the majority on their side. Nearly 1,300 lawmakers in 60 state, county and city legislative bodies passed resolutions supporting Employee Free Choice; 16 governors signed on to a letter backing the bill, as did 115 religious leaders. Workers staged nearly 100 actions in the past week in support of Employee Free Choice, and middle-class Americans generated 50,000 phone calls to the Senate, 156,000 faxes and e-mail messages and 220,000 postcards, including 120,000 delivered to the Senate last week.
America's workers moved the Employee Free Choice Act bill farther and faster this year than any pundit imagined. The bill passed the House by a 241-185 vote in March and won a majority in the Senate. Our mandate is clear: We must elect a bigger majority in the Senate who will stand with working families, and a president who will champion the interests of working families and sign the Employee Free Choice Act.