Unions Yes, A Response

I would like to respond to Gregg and Susan Spindler's letter in last month's PNL. The letter, titled "Fair Share and Business as Usual" had many valid points that I applaud. However, as an employee of the Health Care Education Project of 1199 SEIU, I need to respond to some of their points.

The Spindlers make the argument that unions like 1199 SEIU, "are not really concerned with distribution of wealth, but rather seek to maintain the status quo." I disagree. The Fair Share Coalition was a broad based coalition that was fighting very real cuts that would have devastated health care delivery in our community and across the state. Though I agree that we need to address the larger concern about how and who is taxed in our state, our communities were facing devastating cuts that would have been felt from Syracuse to the Spindlers home in Cazenovia. The Fair Share Coalition had to deal with the immediate problem of the cuts. And now with the budget passed, we can deal with the larger issues of increasing the progressivity of our state income tax system.

We also seek to address what you referred to as, "how much is wasted on needless bureaucracy." This statement refers to the need for health care reform, which 1199 SEIU supports. We believe in: assuring affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans, maintaining coverage when you change or lose your job, ending barriers to coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, improving patient safety and quality of care, investing in prevention and wellness, protecting families from bankruptcy or debt because of health care costs and reducing long-term growth of health care costs for businesses and government. I think that these are values on which all of us as progressives can agree.

There was one piece of the letter that I disagree with strongly. The Spindlers blame the loss in union density on the fact that "working people do not recognize the need or value of union membership." This statement does not reflect the reality of the onslaught that workers face when they try to form a union. Workers who try to exercise their constitutional right are routinely harassed, forced into captive audience meetings, and fed all sorts of lies from their employer to avoid unionization. The remedies within the law are so weak that employers break the law rather than deal with their workforce at the bargaining table.

The contention that workers do not want unions simply does not reflect reality. According to polling by Hart Research Associates in 2005, more than 65% of US workers would join a union tomorrow if they could - which would lead to 40 million new workers joining unions. However, those workers haven't had the chance because of weak laws.

The US Labor Movement is responding to this attack on workers by supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a bill that has been introduced into both the US House and Senate. The legislation is patterned on union organizing rules in Canada and Western Europe. The public supports EFCA, 73% according to a February 2009 survey, though corporate interests are fighting it tooth and nail.
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Lastly, I take issue with comparing the US and European political systems. Most of Europe uses proportional representation. Our system is winner take all. We can argue which system is better (I think that the proportional system works better). But, as Saul Alinsky once stated, "Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have." We have to change the system as it presents itself. To simply walk away when our enemies are attacking us would be foolish. And we will never back away from a fight.

­-Mark Spadafore
Liverpool, NY