by Arlene Holt Baker, Executive Vice President, AFL CIO All across the nation, people are watching the case of Shirley Sherrod, who was asked to resign as Georgia state director for rural development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of an edited video clip. A moment of personal honesty about a redemptive experience in her own life was snipped into an apparent example of bias, and the unforgiving 24-second news cycle was not her friend. While it was wrong for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to force Sherrod to resign before he had all the facts, I am sure that she will receive a fair hearing and get her due process. What happened to Shirley Sherrod happens to so many American workers every day. They are fired or disciplined without cause or due process and have no recourse. They don’t have a voice on the job or an avenue to speak out for their rights. Most Americans work in jobs covered by the idea of “employment at will.” This doctrine, a relic of 19th century anti-labor laws, allows employers to fire workers at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that at least 200,000 Americans are unjustly fired every year In fact, the ACLU says it receives more complaints about workers being mistreated by their employer than it does from people who are mistreated by the government. While the case of Shirley Sherrod has shined the spotlight on one case of unjust firing, millions of Americans whose cases don’t make the news need protection to make sure they are not deprived of a job for no reason. The best protection is a union contract that spells out the worker’s rights and establishes a due process before the worker can be fired. But when workers try to form unions, many are threatened, intimidated by their employers or fired. That’s why we in the union movement are working so hard to ensure that working people can exercise their freedom to join a union and gain their voice. Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act which would level the playing field and let workers, not their bosses, decide how they want to choose a union. Every worker has a right to a voice in the workplace. It’s time we began protecting that right by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.