Skip to content

STATEMENT OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY IN SUPPORT OF THE EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT And comments on the fallen firefighters of South Carolina (As delivered)

(As delivered) My heart goes out this morning to the families of the nine fallen firefighters in Charleston, andto my colleagues Senator Graham and DeMint and to the people of Charleston. These fallenheroes made the ultimate sacrifice to protect their fellow citizens. And today we rememberthem and all firefighters and their families for whom courageous service is a part of theirservice is a part of their everyday lives. My home state of Massachusetts endured similardisaster several years ago when six firefighters died in Worcester, Massachusetts. I read a poem at the funeral of those fallen heroes, and I’d like to read it again now. And Ihope it brings some small measure of comfort to those whose hearts are aching today for theirbrave husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends who perished so tragically. It's called "MayThey Not be Forgotten." ‘Brother, when you weep for me remember that it was meant to be lay me down and whenyou leave remember I’ll be at your sleeve in every dark and choking hall, I’ll be there as youslowly crawl on every roof in driving snow I’ll hold your coat and you will know in cellars hotwith searing heat at windows where a gate you meet in closets where young children hide,you know I’ll be there at your side, the house from which I now respond is overstaffed withheroes gone men who answered one last bell did the job and did it well as firemen, weunderstand that death's a card dealt in our hand, a card we hope we never play but one wehold there anyway, be that card is something we ignore as we crawl across a weakened floor,before we know that we're the only prayer for anyone that might be there, so remember asyou wipe your tears the joy I knew throughout the years as I did the job I loved to do, I praythat thought will see you through.’ Mr. President, I wish to address the Senate on a matter that we'll have an opportunity to voteon as this week goes on, and that is the Employee Free Choice Act, and I think to understandthis issue, Mr. President, we have to understand really what has been happening to the middleclass, the working families in this country over the period of these last 30 years and then whathappened to the middle class in the 20 or 30 years before that and what happened after theturn of the century, as we came into the 20th century. In my own state of Massachusetts, at the turn of the century coming into the 19 hundred's,1900's, we had the most extraordinary and excessive exploitation of American work earningsworkers, and they weren't just American workers, they were children. all one has to do istravel on up to Lowell, Massachusetts, where we have a national park and travel through someof the areas we have preserved, some of the old textile mills, and you'll read encased in manyof those wonderful viewing stands these letters of children that were 8 or 9 and 10 years oldthat worked 15 hours a day as they were paid very, very minimum salaries and they wererequired to work. We had the exploitation of women in those conditions. We had the exploitation of theconditions which were extraordinarily dangerous. And we had wages that were completelyinadequate to provide a decent wage for people that were working long and hard. And then wesaw the changes that took place in the 1940's as work workers came together and demanddemanded economic and social justice. And we saw the changes that took place in theworkplace in terms of fairness and equity. And interestingly, we saw the vast increase inproductivity; the American economy growing stronger. The middle class were the ones thatbrought us out of the Great Depression, the ones that fought in world war ii, the ones that putus back on the track after we had 13 million, 15 million Americans that served in World War II and brought us back to a strong and an expandingeconomy where everyone moved along together, where everyone moved along together andwe made enormous progress during the 1950's and the 1960's and during the early 1970's.We made economic progress for workers and working means, and -- and forking workingfamilies. We passed legislation that dealt with children that were left behind, a whole range ofdifferent kinds of programs to make this a fair and more justified just country. Strongopposition, but I don't hear any effort to try and repeal those marks for progress that we havemade in terms of economic and social justice and the courts obviously filled an enormousresponsibility. So, Mr. President, can Mr. President Mr. president, what happened during this period of time?We find that during this period of time -- I put on here the -- a chart, Mr. President, thatshows from 1941 to 1961. And then I show this part of the chart where we have the -- whatwe call the abuses in the labor -- in the job markets today. And during this period of time, Mr.President, we have what we are talking about, the employee free choice act. We had it ineffect during this period of time, interestingly enough. card check offs were in effect duringthis period of time from 1941 all the way up to 1961 and then through the national laborrelations board and supreme court we found out that there was gradually the elimination thathave kind of protection. And, look, we have found the various abuses that we have at thispoint. That is, firing workers that are interested in forming a union. if the union is actuallyaccepted, even by voting by this, the refusal to accept the outcome -- and we find a series ofdifferent kinds of abuses, to make it more and more difficult for people to be able to join theunions. but what I would had here, Mr. president, is -- but what we had here, Mr. president, isthe fact that we had labor and management disagreement agreements and we had progressand economic prosperity during this period of time. Look here, Mr. President. During that same period of time where we talked about peak unionmembership, wails and productivity rise together. Look from 1947, 1952, 1968, 1962.Increasing in productivity, increasing in wages, America moved along together. Economicprogress that moved a along together. And then as we find that the unions are going todecline, we naindz find that workers are falling further and further and further apart. Wagesnow are flattened and basically in terms of their purchasing power actually going down and wesee the productivity grew more than 206% more than wages. So when you had the idea thatwe had workers that were able to get together, represent their views, the creeps increase inproductivity and we saw the country making very important progress. This chart shows what'shappening during this period of time. This shows what was happening in 194. Here it is, 1947,1957, 1967, up to 1973, the lowest 20%, virtually all the same in terms of real economicgrowth. during the same period that I just pointed out where you had the maximum unionactivity, increasing productivity, increasing wages and the nation -- the united states ofAmerica -- all growing, growing, and growing together. That was going on from 1947 through1973. Now let's take a look at 1973 and the year 2000. We have the beginning of America beginningto grow apart. Look what's happening to the middle class hey and look at what's happened tothe top. Growing two or three times higher during this period of time. This was the beginningof the Reagan revolution that was taking place. Reflecting it in how America was growing.Were we growing more together or are we growing more apart? And look what has happenednow in the most recent times. The lowest 20%, because of the rates of inflation, are actuallygoing down, the second 20%. And this top 1% is the one that is growing at this period oftime. And what has happened, Mr. President? We at the same time we sea -- at the same time, wesee that the corporate profits have gone up at the same time. Workers, wages, and benefitsnow have basically stabilized. This country, the United States, grows together, works together.We are a united people and we see what happening has been happening as a result ofeconomic problems and the fact that unions have been effectively attacked and diminished inthis country. Mr. President, just before I retire, just this last Sunday we had Father's Day. Look at thedifference between fathers and sons in 1964 and 1994. What we have seen is that the sonsdid better; the middle class was expanding expanding. Sons did can better than their fathersover this period of time in this growth. Look what's happening now in this 1974 to 2004. Adecline of 12%. The son is doing poorer than the father, the first time in the history of thiscountry that that's happened. The first time in the history of this country. And we know thecorresponding difference, Mr. President, when we're able to have workers that are able to gettogether; we find out that the corresponding increases. And when you diminish the unions in this kind of area, you diminish the power of working menand women. That happens to be the fact. Is the trade union asking? All they're asking whatthey had years ago during the period of 1947 to 1962. And it worked then, Mr. President. Lookat the wages and productivity. And what happened in the United States of America? We allgrew together. We all grew together. So why this emotional reaction and response on theother side? ‘Employee free choice act -- this is some crazy idea we can't think about or eventolerate.’ This is an idea that has been tried and tested. How few the times that we have in the UnitedStates Senate where we try to do something that has been tried and tested and successful.when we had that measure which was effectively the card check off during the period of wagesand productivity grew together and we had the fact that America -- America -- the UnitedStates of America grow together. That’s the choice that we have in the employee free choice.That is the choice. Are we going to go back to this period of time where we are as a countryand a society growing together? Or are we going to continue to grow apart? That’s the heart ofthe question. The Employee Free Choice is really the resolution and the solution.So, Mr. President, I look forward to other times. I see my friend and I’ve taken the time now.I’m thankful that our good colleague and friend from the state of Washington wishes toaddress this. This is very basic and fundamental about our country and about the kind ofAmerica. I come from a state that takes a pride in the fact that the Mayflower arrived on thecoast off of Massachusetts. The captain of the crew came together after six weeks and theysigned the Mayflower Compact. And that is a compact made Massachusetts a commonwealth.What does it mean? It is a common interest in all of the families and we are going to worktogether to make a better state, a better country, a better nation, a better world. That is whatis at the base of it, what this legislation is all about and I hope the senate will give us a chanceto vote in favor of it. Mr. President, my time has expired. I yield the floor. ###