Merging Consumer and Worker Interests – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The Communication Workers of America (CWA) have long held a seat on our board of directors at the National Consumers League. Today I went over to CWA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to sit down with Larry Cohen, the union’s president, and discuss some of the issues that face consumers and workers alike. High on NCL’s and CWA’s list is comprehensive healthcare reform. According to data from the most recent U.S. Census, 47 million Americans – or 16 percent of the population – have no health insurance, and that number has grown even in the last few years.

Universal health coverage has long been a priority for the League. During the 1930s, Josephine Roche, who was to become president of the League later that decade, headed President Franklin Roosevelt’s Interdepartmental Committee to Coordinate Health and Welfare Activities. One of the Committee’s mandates was the development of a national health plan. The proposal came out in 1938, and Senator Robert Wagner (D-NY) introduced the Committee’s bill in Congress the following year. (Wagner’s name is also attached to the famous Wagner Act of 1935, a law that involved the federal government for the first time in protecting the right of workers to organize and form unions. The Wagner Act also established the National Labor Relations Board.)

Today there are several comprehensive healthcare reform proposals on the table. Neither CWA nor NCL has endorsed specific plans, but I believe we share support for basic principles for reform:

  • Comprehensive Benefits
  • Affordable Coverage
  • Access for Rural, Low Income and Underserved Communities
  • Fair Financing of Plans
  • High Quality Health Care

Cohen and I also discussed National Consumers League’s supports for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a priority measure for the labor union movement. This bill, HR 800 in the House, is currently awaiting action in both the House and the Senate. EFCA provides for the certification of a union as the bargaining representative if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finds that a majority of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit have signed written forms designating the union as its collective bargaining agent

EFCA also speeds along the process of bargaining between employer and employees for their first contract by obligating both parties to reach an agreement, through escalating procedures of mediation and arbitration, if necessary.

Finally, EFCA requires stronger penalties against employers for engaging in unfair labor practices while employees are attempting to organize or obtain a first contract. The bill mandates that the NLRB must seek a federal court injunction against an employer whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that the employer has discharged employees or discriminated against them or engaged in conduct that interferes significantly with employee rights during an organizing campaign or bargaining for a first contract.

Going back to the League’s roots, the presence of labor unions like CWA on our board and our agreement on so many issues energizes our work at the NCL for a fair marketplace for all consumers and workers alike.