Published on Wednesday, June 15, 2005 by OneWorld.net
Pro-Worker Legislation Bolstered by New Report
by Abid Aslam
WASHINGTON - U.S. employers have fired or otherwise retaliated against more than 10,000 workers so far this year for demonstrating support for a union, according to labor rights advocates.
Government figures show that 23,000 U.S. workers are dismissed or discriminated against on the job each year ''for exercising their legal rights to form or join a union,'' Washington, D.C.-based American Rights at Work said Monday in a bid to mobilize support for legislation aimed at making it easier for workers to organize.
''This isn't happening to strangers,'' said David Bonior, a former Democratic congressman from Michigan who chairs the board of the nonprofit advocacy group. ''These are our nurses, school bus drivers, and favorite grocery store clerks.''
The organization, in a separate report written by University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer, said existing procedures for workers to vote on whether to organize fall short of democratic standards. With the report, entitled ''Free and Fair?,'' American Rights at Work said it seeks to drum up support for legislation aimed at easing organizing efforts and making it more difficult for employers to hit back at workers who favor unions.
''Every 23 minutes, a worker suffers retaliation just because they supported a union at work,'' Mary Beth Maxwell, the nonprofit workers' rights advocacy group's executive director, said in a statement. ''America's workers deserve better and it's time for Congress to enact meaningful reform to protect their rights.''
Specifically, American Rights at Work said it supports the Employee Free Choice Act as ''a critical first step in stemming the tide of workers' rights violations.''
The bill, introduced in Congress this year by Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Representatives Peter King, Republican of New York, and George Miller, Democrat of California, strengthens protections for workers during union representation drives, toughens penalties for employers who violate workers' rights, and offers mediation so that employers and unions reach contracts within a reasonable period of time.
The 13-million-member AFL-CIO labor federation also supports the measure, which would require employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers signed cards authorizing union representation.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing employers, said it stands opposed.
''This perversely named bill would actually give labor unions the right to waive secret ballot elections in union organizing drives and instead base recognition on a card-check process, in which employees could be forced to choose whether to support a union in the presence of union organizers,'' the business association said in a statement.
''The U.S. Chamber will aggressively oppose such a drastic change in our nation's labor laws. Organized labor's inability to recruit members is not the result of defects in the law but rather of organized labor's failure to articulate an agenda that is attractive to the majority of American workers,'' it added.
Under current rules, U.S. workers vote on whether to unionize by following procedures spelled out and administered by the National Labor Relations Board.
U.S. unions long have confronted falling membership despite public sympathy. They represent only about nine percent of America's private sector workers, down from 38 percent in the 1950s, according to the AFL-CIO.
Labor groups have sought ways around the formal procedures, saying these serve to stack the deck against unions.
One strategy being pushed in earnest since 2003, when the AFL-CIO launched a nationwide ''Voice at Work'' organizing campaign, is to get companies to recognize unions if enough of their workers sign union cards. The United Auto Workers (UAW) used this strategy to recruit new members in the largely non-union auto supplier industry.
The UAW and other unions also have used so-called neutrality agreements, under which employers agree not to block organizing drives.
Lafer's report says the procedures fall short of basic U.S. democratic standards and the yardsticks against which the U.S. government determines whether elections in foreign countries are ''free and fair.''
These include ''genuine competition between parties and equal access to voters''; free speech for both candidates and voters; protecting voters from economic coercion; and ''timely implementation of the voters' will.''
According to the report, U.S. employers freely distribute anti-union literature while workers are restricted from openly circulating pro-union literature; employers deny pro-union campaigners essential employee information to which bosses nevertheless enjoy access; and employers and supervisors coerce workers with actual or threatened grants or withdrawals of privileges based upon employees' position on the union.
Additionally, Lafer says, existing labor law allows employers to use lengthy appeals to, in effect, indefinitely block recognition of a union in cases where organizing drives result in a pro-union vote result.
From a constitutional perspective, Lafer concludes, the existing system ''is profoundly broken--and profoundly undemocratic. Whatever path labor law reform may take, it must begin with this understanding.''
© Copyright 2005 OneWorld.net