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Ruth Schepp, Published October 18 2009

Free choice act is vital to strong economy

When I graduated from North Dakota State University in 1992, I decided to hone my childhood sewing skills and open up my own business, Ivory Leathers. Our nation’s economy was in a recession during that time, but I understood that with a commitment to quality apparel and customer satisfaction, success was possible. Now, 17 years later and six employees stronger, Ivory Leathers has met that goal.

As an entrepreneur who has allowed my employees to form a union using majority sign-up and seen only positive rewards, I hope to convince others to do the same. In that spirit, I’m an outspoken advocate for the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation restoring workers’ ability to choose to form a union.

Some have written off America’s garment industry as antiquated, yet in West Fargo we know that we can still make it work. In 2008, after years of being in business, I decided to let my employees join the International Association of Machinists because I thought they deserved a pension, fair wages, safe working conditions and a productive relationship with me, their boss. The union’s pension plan is especially beneficial to small companies such as mine, as it provides an efficient, affordable way for workers and businesses to create stable retirement plans.

Despite the advantages workers at companies such as mine have received by joining unions, irresponsible employers are misleading the public on unions and the Employee Free Choice Act. They claim it will kill jobs and create a negative work environment. Yet since they haven’t allowed their employees to organize through majority sign-up, how would they know? The policy merely lets workers have the freedom to decide how they want to form a union. That sounds fair to me, not something that is detrimental to business.

Ivory Leathers has actually expanded since my employees joined the machinists’ union last year. The same is true for many small businesses around the nation, which have overcome the obstacles our economic situation has created and used innovative practices to keep ahead. I recently joined more than 1,000 business leaders who support the Employee Free Choice Act because we see it as fundamental to rebuilding America’s middle class – the customer base of our companies.

If more workers can freely choose to join unions, they’ll be able to bargain for better wages and benefits, increasing their financial stability and purchasing power. This will directly translate into more demand for the products I sell, allowing me to hire more employees and produce more quality goods. The bill, in my opinion, is a win-win for workers and entrepreneurs. If we are to really create long-term economic growth and reinvigorate the engine that truly drives our economy – small businesses – we must support passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

I urge Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., along with Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., to take a stand and work to pass this much-needed measure.

Schepp is the owner of Ivory Leathers Inc. and ILI Clothing based in West Fargo.