As Americans celebrate Labor Day and honor the nation's working people,
we should all be ashamed that American labor law and American labor law
enforcement makes a mockery of workers' basic rights to organize, join
unions and exercise collective bargaining rights.
Workers in industry and commerce face enormous obstacles to form a union
and exercise fundamental rights once unionized. One in ten union
supporters campaigning to form a union is fired illegally, and employers
are effectively free to fire ("permanently replace") workers on strike.
Much of the flawed framework of American labor law is traceable to the
Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Fifty-six years after its passage, it is time
for Congress to repeal this denial of workers' civil rights.
Employers and other forces opposed to unions' right to exist passed
Taft-Hartley in a climate of fear and anti-union zealotry. The result
remains a heavily imbalanced labor law, which includes Taft-Hartley
* Ban secondary boycotts, severely diminishing the organizing and
bargaining power of labor unions.
* Define "employee" to exclude supervisors and independent contractors.
This diminishes the pool of workers eligible to be unionized. The
exclusion of supervisors from union organizing activity has meant they
are used as management's "front line" in anti-organizing efforts.
* Require the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election to
determine representation; prior to Taft Hartley, the Board at its
discretion could certify unions through other means, potentially
* Authorize states to adopt misnamed "right-to-work" laws, barring union
security clauses. Union security clauses mean all workers in a unionized
shop who receive the economic benefits of union representation pay dues
to share the cost of maintaining the union (though they do not have to
be members and cannot be compelled to support political positions they
* Permit decertification elections -- enabling employers to maintain
ongoing campaigns against unions' very existence.
Strong, vibrant and democratic unions are essential to advance workplace
safety, to ensure decent conditions of work, to restrain corporate
employers' exploitative instincts and more broadly to ensure a
functioning and flourishing democracy. Unfortunately, union
representation and labor power have steadily declined over the last four
decades -- with unions now representing only approximately 10 percent of
the private workforce, the lowest percentage in 60 years.
More and more workers are toiling in jobs near the minimum wage, in
non-unionized operations like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and McDonald's. These
service sector jobs are not inherently low-wage. They are low wage
because they are non-union.
The decline in union representation is due to many factors -- including
unbridled corporate globalization -- but high among them is Taft-Hartley
and our system of inadequate legal protections for workers. Other
industrialized countries with more substantial legal protections for
workers -- such as Canada and countries throughout Western Europe --
evidence much higher rates of union membership.
Repeal of Taft-Hartley should be a priority of every American who
believes in civil rights, and a top priority of all politicians who
consider themselves friends of labor.
Yet of all the announced candidates for President from the two major
parties, only one, Representative Dennis Kucinich, has expressed a
willingness to repeal any element of the Taft-Hartley Act.
To truly honor American workers, the Taft-Hartley Act blemish should be
removed from our laws.