As CEOs have thrived, workers have starved. Congress must change this.

Today’s economic crisis is squarely rooted in corporate power run amok. Over the last several decades, corporate executives have their pockets while the government has aided their reckless speculation by re-writing the regulatory rules. We’ve now ended up with the highest levels of income inequality since the Great Depression.

Even before Wall Street starting sinking, working people knew the game was rigged. After all, workers’ productivity has soared over the last several decades – leading to record profits. But those gains weren’t reflected in their stagnant paychecks.

Instead, corporate power brokers were busy concocting schemes to inflate their salaries to 350 times the wages of an average worker.

Now we’re in desperate need of a recovery, but average consumers don’t have the buying power to stimulate the economy. That means layoffs and cutbacks. Here in Maine, we’ve lost over 15,500 jobs in the last year, sending our unemployment rate up to an 18-year high.

Any real solution to this crisis is going to require leveling the economic playing field for workers in this country.

We can no longer allow corporate executives the luxury of playing by their own set of rules. Working people work hard to keep their bills paid, put groceries on the table and send their taxes in on time. Meanwhile, a new Senate report revealed that corporations bilked the government out of over $100 billion by using offshore tax havens last year.

It’s time to hold these cheaters to the same standards as everyone else.

But they won’t give up without a fight. Many of the same corporate elites who are begging the government for billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded bailouts are the same ones taking home millions in lavish bonuses.

They’re also pouring millions of dollars into a campaign to attack the Employee Free Choice Act – a much needed piece of legislation that will restore workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain collectively for better wages and benefits.

Every year, tens of thousands of workers are harassed, intimidated and even fired for expressing support for a union. Corporate managers routinely bring in highly paid “union avoidance” contractors, who convey threats to workers in mandatory, closed-door meetings when workers seek to organize themselves.

Three-quarters of employers have workers’ direct supervisors try to talk them out of forming a union, and a third even illegally fire union supporters, according to reasearch by Cornell University.

The Employee Free Choice Act will impose real penalties on employers who abuse their workers’ rights. It will also remove management’s veto power over the workers’ choice of method for forming a union – either through a majority sign-up process or with a balloted election. Both methods have been legal ways to form a union for 73 years, but today the boss gets to make that choice for you.

Congress has taken up this legislation because they know that workers are demanding justice in workplaces across the country. A recent Gallup poll confirmed that a solid majority of Americans support legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

And why wouldn’t they? Union membership is the surest route to the middle class in this country. Union workers are much more likely to have good health care, pensions, living wages and the stability that comes with a secure job.

In the midst of this crisis, that’s exactly what we’re going to need in order to rebuild our nation’s middle class. The president agrees – and that’s why he’s pledged to sign this bill into law as soon as Congress puts it on his desk.

As long as workers are denied a seat at the bargaining table, corporate greed will continue to run roughshod over our economy. When working people have the power to speak up and earn their fair share, we will be one giant step closer to making this economy work for all of us.

John Sweeney is president of the national AFL-CIO. Ed Gorham is the president of the Maine AFL-CIO

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