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Sanders, given a bigger spotlight, points it back to union workers

October 6

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the Workplace Democracy Act in same place where he launched his bid for president — just a short stroll away from the Capitol. Early this afternoon, dozens of organizers and would-be organizers waved red-white-and-blue signs, donned red-white-and-blue shirts, and waited for Sanders to take a place between them and at least two dozen cameras. As he arrived, tourists gawked at a celebrity they knew from TV, who did not talk about himself.

“Today, if an employee is engaged in a union organizing campaign, that employee has a one in five chance of getting fired,” said Sanders. “Today, half of all employers threaten to close or relocate their businesses if workers elect to form a union. Today, when workers become interested in forming a union, they will almost always be forced to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; and their supervisors will almost always be forced to attend training sessions.”

Sanders spoke for less than eight minutes, turned the event over to two congressional endorsers (Rep. Marc Pocan of Wisconsin and Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey), then turned it over to people who’d tried to organize and been punished for it. This had happened in plain sight. Kellie Duckett tried to form a union in the Capitol Visitor’s Center, located a short walk from the “Senate swamp” where she was speaking. Mayra Tito was fired from a Starbucks in the Pentagon, “after I went on strike for $15 [wage] and a union.”

The speeches and the scrums were a demonstration of just what Sanders wanted to do with his “political revolution.” Every few weeks, he’s issued new legislation, doomed to molder in the Republican-run Senate. The Workplace Democracy Act was essentially a rebranded Employee Free Choice Act, the “card check” proposal that would have, had 60 Democrats agreed to pass it in 2009, allowed the National Labor Relations Board to certify unions if 50 percent-plus-one of a workforce signed cards asking for them. The 2010 Democratic Senate losses killed EFCA, but here was Sanders, uniting with the Communication Workers of America and the “Good Jobs Nation” campaign, acting as if the right people had simply never been allowed to speak.

When Sanders finished, he paused briefly for questions, heard none, and started to move towards his office. Reporters belatedly gave chase, surrounding him, and asking him more directly political questions. Why did he only have one endorsement from an AFL-CIO member union?

“I think we’re gonna end up with a lot more than that, and we have a lot of support from rank and file members.”

What was he going to do in the debate?

“Secretary Clinton and I have significant agreements on a number of issues. I strongly oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership… I believe that we need to re-establish Glass-Steagall.”

A phalanx of reporters kept dogging Sanders, as the workers he’d spoken next to talked to a much smaller group of reporters. Chris Shelton, the president of the CWA, said that his members were being polled online, until December, on whether they should endorse a candidate for president. In the meantime, Sanders was certainly helping to promote their issues.

“He came up with this bill quite a few years ago, and he’s going to try it again,” said Shelton. “The American public has come out and said we believe in unions, and it’s time we had the right to organize. Really organize.”

“I’m hoping he can be a role model,” said Kellie Duckett. “He can tell the people what’s going on better than they can see.”

Meanwhile, in the middle distance, Sanders and a flack were fending off a French radio reporter who kept asking what “socialism” meant to Americans.