Our nation stands ready to emerge from the modern-day era of the Robber Baron. For three decades, we've valued corporate profit over people and CEO pay over people's pocketbooks. We've put up pedestals for Wall Street tycoons while building barriers for working people.
The results of this idiocy are now clear. In Florida, we have a whopping 9.7 percent unemployment rate which may jump over 10 percent in the very near future. The bankers and investors asked us to bend the regulatory rules and then drove the banks and our housing market into the ground.
In 1979, the wealthiest Americans controlled less than 10 percent of our nation's wealth. They now control nearly a quarter of it. CEOs brought home an average $10 million last year and got more perks than ever. The last time we knew this kind of income disparity was before the Great Depression.
If you're a working person in this country, you work harder than your parents did and you're worse off. Productivity is up 70 percent since the 1970s, but real wages are shrinking. In fact, if the real wages of Florida's workers had kept pace with gains in productivity since 1980, the workers would have brought home an average 24 percent more each week last year. Americans work longer hours than people in any other industrialized nation, including Japan.
We need to bring balance back to a system where wealthy CEOs are rewarded even if they fail, while the rest of us struggle. We need policy solutions that rebuild the middle class and allow everyone the chance to share in America's promise. Workers need real change. The Employee Free Choice Act will be crucial to that change.
A union card is the single best middle-class support in our country. When workers have the power to negotiate with their employers, they're able to bargain for their fair share of wages and benefits. Union workers are more likely to have health care, pensions and better job security. Communities with higher percentages of union workers have higher standards of living. Studies from the Economic Policy Institute show that the increased buying power of a unionized work force helps to stimulate demand for businesses.
In fact, a solid majority of Americans support legislation that would make it easier for workers to join and form unions, according to a recent Gallup poll.
That's why Congress is ready to take action on the Employee Free Choice Act — a critical piece of legislation that will restore workers' freedom to form unions and bargain for better lives. Today, workers have to play by their bosses' rules when deciding to form a union at their workplace. Current law lets the corporations decide whether workers will organize using a majority sign-up process or the more difficult and divisive process of a ballot election. This act will let workers make that choice for themselves — they will choose how they will form a union, not the CEO. The act also increases penalties for employers who abuse the law.
Hundreds of successful businesses, including many in Florida, have already benefited from the less divisive majority sign-up process at places like AT&T and Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade. Unions and managers have worked together to establish employee training programs, reduce turnover and improve product quality.
Unfortunately, some legislators in Tallahassee want to block the Employee Free Choice Act in our state and deny Florida's workers the benefits that workers in other states will enjoy. HJR 1013 and SJR 1908 would enshrine the rights of the corporations and CEOs to fire, harass and intimidate workers trying to form unions and ensure that the corporations, not the workers, are able to decide whether unions are formed by a majority sign-up or a ballot election.
Florida's workers need the Legislature to solve our budget crisis, fix our schools and improve health care for our children. They need the Employee Free Choice Act from Congress, not a mean-spirited campaign funded by out-of-state special interests that kicks our workers when they are down.
Cindy Hall is the president of the Florida AFL-CIO, a state federation representing more than 500 local unions and 500,000 workers, retirees and their families.