CHARLOTTE, N.C. --The Democratic Party platform, up for adoption at the party's convention just after Labor Day in Charlotte, N.C., strongly backs workers' rights - so strongly that it virtually endorses the Employee Free Choice Act, even if it doesn't actually utter those words.
In an interview with Press Associates Union News Service, Barbara Easterling, the longtime Communications Workers Secretary-Treasurer who is a top union rep on the party's platform committee, read the stout pro-worker words of the Democrats' document.
"The American middle class is under assault," the platform declares. After a prior GOP "administration that was bent on destroying unions, the president and the Democratic Party believe in the right to organize" and in "supporting American workers with strong labor laws."
While platforms are usually filed and forgotten, they are indexes of party principles at that point in time. And a recent academic study showed, surprisingly, that platform promises were later written into law more often than expected.
That makes the Democrats' strong endorsement of worker rights, while not unexpected, welcome. The Employee Free Choice Act, with the provisions the platform backs, would have helped level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and in bargaining first contracts. A planned GOP Senate filibuster killed it.
"Democrats believe the right to organize and collective bargaining is a fundamental American value," the platform says. It pledged the party to fight for "laws that provide a fair process to choose union representation and for increased penalties" for labor law-breakers. Both concepts were key sections of the EFCA.
And the platform declares the party's opposition to "attacks on collective bargaining that governors and states are undertaking" - a thinly veiled reference to GOP-run state governments that killed collective bargaining rights for public workers (Wisconsin) and tried to do so (Ohio).
The labor provisions went through without objection, Easterling added.
The platform committee's final session, in Detroit last month, saw approximately 100 amendments initially offered, but most were withdrawn. None dealt with labor issues. A few on issues such as reproductive rights - where abortion opponents objected to the party's language - were debated openly and courteously, she said.
"The platform meeting really went well and they listened to anyone who had something to say on an issue that wasn't going to go through," Easterling added.
Besides the strong endorsement of workers rights, the platform also:
Says workers have "a right to fair wages for a fair day's work."
Says if Democratic President Barack Obama is re-elected, his administration will expand and intensify its current drive against employer misclassification of workers as "independent contractors." Misclassified workers, in construction, trucking and elsewhere, lack labor law, minimum wage/ overtime law and workers' comp protections. They also pay the employer and worker shares of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
Pledges to fight to extend collective bargaining rights for public workers - praising teachers, Fire Fighters and police specifically - in states that now ban such bargaining. North Carolina, the convention's state, has the most comprehensive ban.
Says the party will propose raising the minimum wage and then indexing it to inflation. Labor strongly backs Democratic-sponsored legislation to raise the wage in three 85-cent jumps from its present $7.25 per hour to $9.80 hourly, over two years.
Unions, led by SEIU, campaigned for the hike and indexing, starting in August.
Opposes schemes to ban workers from political participation through the workers' own voluntary contributions. GOP-run states have pushed such bans. GOP operatives put one such ban, with an innocuous name (they dare to call it "paycheck fairness"!), on this fall's California ballot as an initiative.
Hundreds of unionists are delegates to the Democratic convention, September 4-6, unlike at the GOP convention the week before. But labor will have a lower profile in Charlotte than at previous Democratic conclaves.
That's because the AFL-CIO decided not to invest money in such things as buying skyboxes or hosting events and most other unions followed suit. Instead, it's plowing the funds into its own political program.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will chair a labor delegate caucus meeting on Sept. 4.