WASHINGTON – A Colorado man joined Democratic members of Congress Wednesday to rally support for a bill that would make it easier for workers to unionize.
Errol Hohrein,a boilermaker from Windsor,spoke at the Rayburn House Office Building on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act.
The House passed the bill Thursday,241-185. President Bush has said he will veto the bill if the Senate passes it.
“You're looking at the face of America,” said Hohrein,57. “You're going to have workers riled if something doesn't happen in this country.”
The Vietnam veteran and former high school teacher was joined by five Democratic congressmen,including Rep. George Miller,D-Calif.,and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer,D-Md.
Hohrein,who worked at a Front Range Energy ethanol distillery,said he and his co-workers formed a union because management ignored serious safety concerns. With help from the United Steelworkers,which represents workers all over America and Canada,they elected their union by a 1-vote margin in December.
But Hohrein said management fired him a few days later. The union has filed charges against his former employer,saying the firing was unfair.
Distillery managers didn't return phone calls for comment.
Dressed in a United Steelworker baseball cap and gray polo shirt,Hohrein said his situation put him in “serious dire straits,” and Congress needs to act before many Americans are forced out of jobs they need.
We need change or we will “turn over a gigantic nightmare to our children,” he said.
Sponsored by Miller,the bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow workers to form a union once they've obtained written authorization from a majority of employees.
Under the current law,after collecting enough signatures,organizers hold an election with secret ballots to decide if they want a union. Proponents of the bill say employers use that step to stall the process.
“Workers simply don't have the opportunity to join together and bargain for better wages,benefits and working conditions,” Miller said.
The bill would also require the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to intervene in any contract dispute between unions and employers that lasts longer than 90 days. The service would have 30 days to mediate the issue before arbitration would be imposed.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce,the world's largest business federation,disagrees with the bill because it said bypassing elections would allow union leaders to pressure workers.
The chamber's advocacy group led a lobbying effort against the bill,which it said generated 40,000 messages to Congress.
Tom Donohue,the chamber's president,called Thursday's vote “disturbing.”
“We call on the Senate to uphold the right of workers to vote in private – free of coercion or influence – on whether or not to join a union,” he said in a statement.
Some Republican representatives have taken the same stance.
The bill “removes the freedom of choice and the secret ballot of individual workers,” said Rep. Eric Cantor,R-Va.,in a statement. “In fact,the passage of this bill will effectively strip workers of their privacy voting rights while simultaneously exposing them to coercion tactics.”