New Bill Defines Labor Rights As Civil Rights

by Bruce Vail

Cong. Keith Ellison

Cong. Keith Ellison

On Wednesday, a handful of Democratic Party lawmakers introduced a bill to turn the slogan “Labor Rights are Civil Rights” into the law of the land. While admitting the proposed legislation has little chance of passage in the current anti-labor environment, supporters say they hope shifting political winds may favor the bill sometime in the future.

A civil right is any right enshrined in the Constitution or legislation, such as freedom of assembly or freedom of the press. The new measure would affirm that labor rights are equally fundamental.

Titled the “Employee Empowerment Act,” the bill is short and simple. It would add a single paragraph to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act giving workers the right to sue employers in federal court for labor law violations, in the same way that individuals are allowed to bring lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under current law, workers must bring such complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is often criticized for being very slow to act and offering wronged workers little in the way of compensation.
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McDonald’s is responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants, labor board says

by Laura Clawson

(Photo: Wikipedia)

(Photo: Wikipedia)

In a move that could have far-reaching implications for franchised businesses and low-wage workers, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel said Tuesday that McDonald’s would be treated as a joint employer along with franchisees in 43 unfair labor practices cases. Setting this precedent would make it harder for the company to deny responsibility for wage theft and other abuses—like the cases that raised this question in the first place, with workers alleging they were fired in retaliation for participating in legally protected strikes. McDonald’s, like other franchise businesses, has traditionally claimed that it has nothing to do with labor practices in its restaurants, but the tight control the company exerts over every aspect of management of its franchisee-owned restaurants points to a different conclusion:

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Don’t Fire Workers For Cursing–or Other Concerted Activity

by Matt Bruenig

swearing-294391_640Conservatives I follow on Twitter have gotten really perturbed by a recent slate of National Labor Relations Board decisions. In particular, they seem scandalized by the fact that you can’t automatically fire someone just because they said a cuss word. Even Radley “hate the cops, love the boss” Balko managed to get himself worked up about it a couple of weeks ago. Normally, I’d let this sort of thing pass, but with economic news being slow right now, I thought it might be helpful to explain why these decisions make perfect sense.

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NLRB Considering Legalizing the Use of Company Email for Organizing Purposes

by Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

Chaz Bolte

The NLRB has issued a “Notice and Invitation to File Briefs”  [PDF] in the Purple Communications, Inc. case which could overturn the precedent concerning organizing activities on company email systems set by the board’s ruling in the Register-Guard case during the Bush Administration.

Using the Register-Guard decision as precedent, companies can currently enforce policies which prohibit company email from being used for anything but business purposes.  But the current NLRB appears interested in reversing that decision partially due to the increased importance of email in organizing since the Bush era. Another goal is to align the ruling with other recent rulings that helped streamline the union election process.   Continue reading

UAW Objections Withdrawal A Sign They Want a Second Shot Soon

by Wade Rathke

UAW(April 22)    Politicians and the in-plant anti-union committee at Volkswagen in Chattanooga were both chortling and celebrating the announcement that the UAW had withdrawn its election objections before the NLRB hearing on the issues raised in its recent, narrow defeat. They are laughing too soon. They are actually totally misreading the organizing tactics, and interpreting a tactical withdrawal as a concession, rather than the more accurate understanding that this is a huge signal from the UAW that they are in fact deepening their commitment to keeping the campaign alive for a second shot at an election.

There are never any future guarantees in organizing about when the time might be right to go another round, but the UAW at the crossroads faced two choices. One was to fully engage on the legal struggle around their objections and run the clock out for years in back-and-forth appeals. This is usually the “long game” after an election defeat where basically the union tries to save face institutionally and to maintain other organizing efforts by giving organizers and leaders’ talking points framed on the notion that there’s still a heartbeat, that justice will be done, and hope is a plan. It’s a sad organizing strategy since even miraculously winning a second election after years would have tended to alienate the workforce, making a better result difficult. Continue reading

UAW drops appeal over Republican intimidation in Volkswagen vote

by Laura Clawson

UAWThe UAW is giving up its appeal of February’s union representation election at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkswagen plant. The union had subpoenaed Republican officials like Gov. Bill Haslam and Sen. Bob Corker, around whose threats of dire consequences if workers unionized the appeal to the National Labor Relations Board had centered, seeking information on those threats. But, unsurprisingly, the same people who threatened workers over a union vote weren’t interested in participating in a fair appeals process, a process that could drag on almost indefinitely: Continue reading

The UAW’s Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant Will Not End the Southern Auto Organizing Drive

by Paul Garver

Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference by anti-union special interest groups and right-wing politicians, on 21st February the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians and wealthy anti-union organizations.

The success of the UAW’s novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would  prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by some workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed organizing efforts by pro-union VW workers and their families can succeed.

I went away from a workshop with renewed hope at the recent Labor Notes conference in Chicago addressed by Volkswagon workers  and by Chris Brooks, of Chattanooga Organized for Action.  The workers and Chris explained with passion and clear analytical thinking how the union came close to victory, only to be blindsided by a massive anti-union campaign fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from shadowy outside special interests.

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UAW Appeals Election Loss at Chattanooga VW Plant

[Ed. note: Attributing its narrow loss at the Chattanooga VW plant to outrageous outside interference, the UAW formally filed objections to the election with the NLRB. This is new legal terrain, since the electoral misconduct stemmed not as customary from management but from misleading and coercive statements by right-wing politicians.

The success of the UAW's novel legal appeal is far from certain, despite its evident justification. It is also uncertain, even if a new election is granted, whether the union would necessarily prevail in an unchanged hostile external political environment and continuing opposition to the union by many workers. However a new combination of political mobilization in the community and renewed efforts to reach VW workers and their families could succeed. --Paul Garver]

The text of the UAW press release on the NLRB appeal follows below the line Continue reading

NLRB Office of the General Counsel Authorizes Complaints against Walmart

www.nlrb.gov

Walmart_2_cropped(November 18, 2013) The National Labor Relations Board Office of the General Counsel has investigated charges alleging that Walmart violated the rights of its employees as a result of activities surrounding employee protests.  The Office of the General Counsel found merit in some of the charges and no merit in others.  The Office of the General Counsel has authorized complaints on alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act.  If the parties cannot reach settlements in these cases, complaints will issue.

The Office of the General Counsel found merit to alleged violations of the National Labor Relations Act against Walmart, such as the following: Continue reading

The National Labor Relations Board Is Back at Full Throttle

By Bruce Vail

vail_griffin_NLRB_counsel_615_298

Before vote, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), pictured here at a preschool visit in Iowa, praised nominee Richard Griffin for his extensive knowledge of labor law. (Phil Roeder / Flickr / Creative Commons)

(Nov 1) On Tuesday October 29, the U.S. Senate took the final measure to restore the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to full strength with its approval of Richard F. Griffin Jr. as general counsel. Though Griffin’s start date has yet to be determined, his instatement marks the last step in the board’s resumption of its role as the principal agency of the federal government for settling labor-management disputes in the private sector. Given Griffin’s long history as a union lawyer, his confirmation also signifies a rare victory for organized labor on Captol Hill.

The Senate action brings to a close a nearly two-year struggle between the White House and Senate Republicans over nominations to the labor board. The partisan bitterness—which is likely to continue—was reflected in Tuesday’s 55-44 vote, in which Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only Republican to back Griffin’s appointment.

Griffin’s nomination will likely go down in NLRB history as one of the most unusual, not so much for his official actions but for the partisan rancor and legal maneuvering that accompanied his selection. Continue reading

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