WASHINGTON -- February 18 -- Neutrality agreements, a lawful process by which employers agree not to interfere with their employees efforts to form a union, continue to come under attack by right wing anti-union groups. Last week, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against Heartland Industrial Partners and the United Steelworkers of America, claiming that their neutrality agreement violates U.S. labor law. The decision follows charges filed in 2003 by the National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC).
Heartlands neutrality agreement with the Steelworkers extends to its other business holdings. The contract prohibits companies with major Heartland investments from interfering with employees attempts to form a union. And employers must recognize the union when a majority of employees sign authorization cards.
We should be lauding companies that are willing to voluntarily respect workers rights at a time when many workers face intense employer interference, says David Bonior, Chair of American Rights at Work, a workers rights advocacy organization. Research by Cornell University found that 25 percent of employers faced with illegally fire pro-union employees, and 51 percent illegally threaten to close a facility if their workers form a union. Each year, more than 23,000 workers are unlawfully fired and experience severe discrimination for exercising their democratic right to form a union.
Because of the increase of unionbusting campaigns, contracts like the Heartland/Steelworkers agreement are one of the few ways workers can actually exercise their freedom of association without fear of retribution, says Mary Beth Maxwell, Executive Director of American Rights at Work.
Since the 1970s, employers and unions have effectively used neutrality agreements to end hostile, protracted union organizing campaigns. While neutrality agreements do reduce employees exposure to intimidating anti-union tactics, they do not guarantee union representation. Workers are able to reject unionization by not signing authorization cards. As a completely voluntary and democratic process, employers must agree to participate and signed authorization cards are typically verified by a neutral third party.
The NRTWC has launched a full-scale attack on neutrality agreements, with several charges against companies and unions pending at the NLRB and in a U.S. District Court. An Administrative Law Judge of the NLRB will hear the case against Heartland and the Steelworkers on March 21.
The involvement of a right-wing group like the National Right to Work Committee should raise a red flag, cautions Bonior. This matter is really about undermining workers legally protected right to form a union.
American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to educating the American public about the barriers that workers face when they attempt to exercise their rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Our mission is to fight for a nation where the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers is restored, guaranteed and promoted.