Urbana council supports Employee Free Choice Act

By Crystal Kang

The Urbana City Council Monday night forwarded a resolution supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, which passed with a 4-3 vote.

Ward 1 Alderman Charlie Smyth proposed the resolution emphasizing the necessity of the city to take a stand on the federal issue regarding employers violating the rights of

workers and implement an Act that would protect and enoucourage unions.

“We’ve discussed federal and state issues in the city council before,” Smyth said. “They say all politics are local. The only way we’ll solve the political issues is to create a level playing field.”

Ward 5 Alderman Dennis Roberts broke the tie when he voted in favor of the resolution. He said if the city is going to adopt this Employee Free Choice Act, it would be a good debate to have in the city council than to affect the national scene.

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    “We could have lots of discussions here to show our politicians what we support,” Roberts said.

    Several concerned Urbana residents spoke in favor of Smyth’s proposed resolution. Their main concern was the companies’ manipulative and intimidating tactics that prevented workers from circulating authorization cards

    to elect on whether to have unions.

    Urbana resident Michael Lehman said the U.S. has one of the weakest labor laws, which can only lead to corruption in companies.

    “Companies deny breaking laws and are rarely liable,” said Lehman. “Workers need to have a good, strong voice.”

    When workers at Lehman’s job tried to elect for a union, Lehman said the company threatened to take its business elsewhere and hired consultants to come in and advise the workers about how bad of an idea unions

    were. He added that instead of having a transportation department, the company brought in an outfit called Brisk Transportation from Texas to deal with people’s union problems. In the end, workers lost in their efforts to elect a union, and there were about 140 people laid off.

    Urbana resident Joe Furtrelle said these outside consultants were contractors who wouldn’t negotiate with the workers amd discouraged the idea of forming unions.

    “The company is willing to pay the extra cost to create an environment without unions because they don’t want to negotiate in good faith and instead operate with impunity,” said Futrelle. “The gap between the rich and poor and the CEO pay is out of proportion. I can’t imagine how we can sustain an economy if nobody at the bottom can pay for the industries’ (products).”

    Smyth asked the council to strongly consider the resolution, especially because the Employee Free Choice Act is supported by President-elect Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

    Urbana resident Ricky Baldwin said whereas unions prevent workers from being fired without a legitimate reason, workers who don’t have unions are subject to unexpectedly being laid off.

    “If you don’t have a union, you could be fired anytme for any reason,” said Baldwin. “You could work somewhere for 15 years and all of a sudden get a new manager. If (the manager) doesn’t like the color of your socks, (the manager) can fire you without recourse.

    “There’s enormous pressure on Congress from employers from places like Wal-Mart who doesn’t want to see this pass,” Baldwin said.