Over the past couple of years, low-wage McDonalds, Wal-Mart and federal contract workers have been striking to win a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour and the right to form a union.
Some people ask us, “Why don’t you stop striking and just hold a union election?”
The truth is America’s low-wage workers are striking because union election rules are rigged against us.
As U.S. Capitol and Senate cafeteria contract workers, we know this firsthand. Since we started organizing, we’ve been relentlessly harassed and intimidated by our bosses. Managers have threatened to fire us, questioned us about our organizing efforts, cut our hours, changed our schedules, increased our workloads, and ordered us not to speak with union organizers.
In short, managers are illegally creating a hostile work environment to prevent us from joining a union.
If employers feel like they can break the law and retaliate against workers at the seat of the people’s power – the U.S. Capitol and Senate – imagine what’s happening in fast food restaurants and big box retailers in towns far away from where our laws are made and enforced.
We have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board. But even though the government got the company to post a notice agreeing to stop violating our rights – and even though many U.S. senators are publically supporting us – the anti-union campaign has gotten much worse.
In fact, during the August recess, the company president flew in from his New York City headquarters and called us into a meeting. Even though most of us have worked here for years, we had never seen the CEO in person before.
He made this special trip for one reason – he wanted to pressure us to not to form a union.
During the meeting, he told us that us that a union would make us poorer by taking dues out of our paychecks. He told us that having a union represent us would mean we could no longer talk directly to our supervisors. And, most offensively of all, the president publically humiliated one of our co-workers. He read an op-ed from a single mom who is forced by her low-wages to work as an exotic dancer to support her son. Even though she chose to write the piece anonymously, the president made sure she attended the meeting to shame her into silence.
When you’re like us – living paycheck to paycheck and barely able to keep a roof over your head or food on the table – you can’t afford to ignore what the CEO and managers who sign your paycheck and set your schedules do and say.
These scare tactics are working now and they’ve worked before.
Two years ago, the company used the same playbook to frighten us into voting against the union. Reflecting on that experience, one of our coworkers said he felt “brain-washed by a psychological campaign” that got him to act against improving his life.
That’s why we’ve now decided to vote with our feet and forgo a rigged election.
We are demanding a free and fair organizing process just like the one Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders calls for renewed focus on fighting climate change Maher on Obama speaking fee: Isn’t that what cost Clinton the election? NRA head: Sanders 'a political predator' MORE (I-Vt.) is proposing in his “Workplace Democracy Act.” Instead of going through a sham election, we should be able to join a union by just signing a union membership card.
Nobody should interfere with our right to sign-up for a union just like no one can stop us from signing up for a church or political party.
We deserve the freedom to make our own decision. Workplace democracy should be the policy for all federal contractors – especially at the Senate and Capitol – as well as be the law of the land.
Olotara and Villatoro are workers at the U.S. Senate cafeteria.