William M. George

is president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO

For the last 25 years, good jobs have disappeared and real wages have dropped, even though workers' productivity has soared. People have struggled to maintain their living standards through credit.

But you can't rebuild or maintain a middle class on credit. You have to do it the old-fashioned way: Workers need to be able to bargain for decent wages and benefits for our nation to have a true, sustainable recovery.

The Employee Free Choice Act would restore workers' freedom to improve their living standards - and our economy - by forming unions, free from employer interference. It would restore balance, giving working people the tools they need to win fair wages and treatment in corporate America.

Workers who belong to a union make 30 percent more than those who don't. In Pennsylvania, the union difference is $8,555 in yearly wages. And union workers are also much more likely to have health insurance and other benefits.

So it's no wonder that when nonunion American workers are asked if they would like to organize, more than half say yes. Unfortunately, though, most will never get the chance.

Every day, corporations deny workers the right to form unions by forcing them to participate in company-controlled elections. And they routinely coerce, harass and fire workers for supporting unions.

A quarter of companies fire union supporters during organizing campaigns, often in the days leading up to an election. Three-quarters force workers to listen to the case against organizing in one-on-one meetings with supervisors, according to a study by Cornell. Meanwhile, union representatives aren't allowed on the premises. Does that sound like a free and fair election?

In 2005, more than 31,000 cases filed under the National Labor Relations Act found evidence of employers harassing, intimidating and firing workers for supporting a union.

Why? The dirty little secret is the reason corporations have put down big money to stop the Employee Free Choice Act: They don't want to give workers the power to bargain for fair wages and benefits that they don't feel like paying.

There are currently two ways workers can indicate they want to form a union: they can petition for an election, or they can be recognized when a majority signs cards in favor of organization.

The problem is that companies get to decide which method is used. The Employee Free Choice Act would put that choice in workers' hands.

Thousands of workers - including employees of such companies as AT&T and Kaiser Permanente - already form unions through the so-called card-check method each year. All employees should have that option.

Our current labor laws do not respect workers' choices. They promote wage inequality and depress our middle class. In today's economy, it is more important than ever that we fix them.

Let's level the playing field and give working people a chance.