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Alaska Member Tells Congress: Support Unions

March 17, 2009

Anchorage, Alaska, Local 1547 apprentice lineman Deborah Kelly owes a lot to her union. The only woman lineman in the state, she told Congress on March 10 that the IBEW put her on a path to a good-paying career in the electrical trade.

It also helped saved her life. More than four years ago, at the age of 18, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now in recovery, her health benefits have made sure that the necessary but expensive follow-up testing and monitoring haven’t bankrupted her family.

“The IBEW has done so much for me,” she said. Now she wants to make sure all workers have the same opportunity she had to freely join a union.

Kelly joined a panel of other union members, civil rights and religious leaders and economists who testified in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on March 10.

“I have a solid career with a future, I know I can work hard and receive a decent paycheck,” Kelly testified. “I know I’ll work with the most highly trained people and I’ll come home safe. I know I’m never alone—my union provides a safety net and helps me ensure I have equal opportunity employment.”

The Employee Free Choice Act was introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives later that day, kicking off one of the most important legislative battles for working families in decades.

The legislation would make easier for workers to join a union by giving employees the choice of majority sign-up or a secret ballot election, while instituting harsher penalties for employers who refuse to bargain with employees in a timely and fair manner or who engage in anti-union intimidation.

“When 60 percent of workers want to join a union, but only 7 percent are members, something is broken,” said acting committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a bill sponsor.

Also testifying was an AT&T worker who helped organize her co-workers into the Communications Workers of America and an elevator worker, whose union, SEIU Local 32BJ in New York, helped find him work after he lost his job at the World Trade Center after the September 11 terrorist attack.

Hundred of union members and supporters crowded the hearing room, spilling out into the hall of the Dirksen Senate building.

“When the union asked me to talk about the Free Choice Act in front of Congress, how could I say no?” Kelly said. “It has given me so many opportunities that I think everyone deserves a shot at the good things I have.”

The bill has majority support in the Senate, but supporters are lobbying senators to stop a filibuster, which prevented the legislation from coming up for a vote two years ago.

“We need to make sure every congressional representative knows how important this bill is to putting our country back on the right track and making it place for the middle class again,” said IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill.

President Barack Obama has vowed to sign the Employee Free Choice Act into law when it reaches his desk.

Watch MSNBC host Rachel Maddow refute the distortions about the Employee Free Choice Act spread by its
opponents by clicking here.