AFL-CIO Repositions Itself to Speak for All Workers

Fletcherby Bill Fletcher Jr. and Jeff Crosby

The AFL-CIO Convention in September took an important turn to reposition unions toward speaking for all working people in the United States. This was a correction to the narrow focus on its dues-paying members and traditional electoral work that has cursed the movement for most of its history.

To argue that this turn represents an abandonment of current members, as Steve Early does here , is factually false and politically wrong.

It helps to understand what the federation is and is not. It is a collection of unions “held together by a rope of sand,” as a former federation president put it. From the central labor councils to the national organization, affiliates that don’t like the turn of events just quit. Continue reading

Workers’ Labor Needs to be Defined More in Terms of Property Rather than Commodities

Oren Levin -Waldman

Oren Levin -Waldman

When states pass right-to-work laws, they claim that they are creating working conditions conducive to choice. Workers can choose to join a union or not, but because these laws effectively bar closed shops workers are no longer coerced to join unions. Opponents of these laws point out the obvious: because unionization efforts have been made more difficult, the power of unions is diminished, and so too are the legitimate rights of workers. And yet, right-ro-work laws rest on a fundamental assumption which has long permeated American labor law. That is, employers have property rights while workers do not. Hence the asymmetrical balance of power between workers and their employers.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) which created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was so important when it was passed in 1935 because it called for collective-bargaining as a means to prevent labor strife and instability in labor markets. By threatening to strike, which was now legal, employers would be forced to bargain with their employees. Prior to passage of the NLRA, employers could easily assert their property rights and claim that unions and strikes were an infringement of those rights. The courts originally took the position that unions were illegal because they violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act by creating labor monopolies in restraint of free trade. Nobody would deny that they were monopolies, but institutional economists maintained that so long as workers had neither power nor property rights, they needed a measure of bargaining power that only unions and collective bargaining could afford them. Then when states attempted to pass maximum hours and minimum wage laws, which would effectively grant a measure of monopoly bargaining power to those not covered by collective bargaining agreements, the courts held them to be a violation of liberty of contract. Continue reading

Supreme Court Scrutiny of ‘Neutrality’ Pacts Could Be Another Blow to Unions

by Bruce Vail

Photo John Hartnup/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Photo John Hartnup/Flickr/Creative Commons

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it will accept a case for review next year on the use of labor-management “neutrality” agreements in union organizing campaigns. An anti-union decision from the high court would make labor organizing more difficult and threaten labor organizations at a national level, labor experts say.

At issue are the so-called neutrality agreements between unions and employers in which the employer agrees beforehand not to actively oppose the union organizing process at a specific workplace. Typically, such agreements specify that both sides refrain from inflammatory or divisive tactics, and that the workers be allowed to choose or oppose union representation free from any pressure or intimidation from either side. Continue reading

Republicans Deep-Six the NLRB

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Doing filibustering Senate Republicans one better, the one Republican member on the (currently) three-member National Labor Relations Board appears to have decided to bring the board to a screeching halt by refusing to vote and thus denying it a quorum.

In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections. The proposed rule change essentially would shorten the period between the time that workers file for a union-representation election and the election itself from the current time period, which is as long as management can delay a vote (sometimes, for years) to roughly three or four weeks.

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NLRB Proposed Union Election Rule: What it breaks down to…

By Richard Negri

Anyone who has ever been part of an NLRB union organizing drive will tell you, it is not as easy and swift as most would think. Sure, folks know it is our legal right to organize a union if we choose to, but what they might not be aware of is how insanely long it frequently takes to get the union recognized by the employer.

Why is that?

As a simple matter-of-fact, our labor laws are outdated and badly in need of reform. As it stands now, employers can hold up voting through legal filings and appeals — many of which are useless but, by law, need to be reviewed by the NLRB and sometimes the courts. Likewise, unions can of course make filings during the same period, but most choose not to until the elections are done because of the “hold up” these filings create or specifically request that the filings not delay voting.

So, when the NLRB announced this week that it proposed rules to reform pre- and post-election representation case procedures, working people around the country took a deep breath …

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California passes card check bill for farm workers on Chavez holiday

by Duane Campbell

Photo from Wikipedia

On March 31,2011, California and 10 other states honored  Cesar Chavez and his legacy.  Today in California the state Senate passed again SB 104 to allow card check for workers  as a route to secret ballot elections in the fields.

The bill passed on a party line vote.  All 24 Democrats voted for it, the 14 Republicans voted against it.  SB 104 will  allow workers to have a union by submitting petition cards to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.  The ALRB was established in 1976 the first time Jerry Brown was governor after years of effort by  Cesar Chavez and the UFW. California is perhaps the only state that that has a reasonable law permitting  farm workers to organize into  a union.  Agricultural workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act when it was passed.  Today’s bill was sponsored by the United Farmworkers Union.  Such legislation  has long been a major goal of the UFW. The bill also includes enhanced penalties for growers who seek to block workers from unionizing. Continue reading

Do the New NLRB Rules Really Help Workers Organize?

by Mike Elk

Mike Elk

A series of rules have been proposed recently by the National Labor Relations Board that improve the rights of workers on the job. The rule changes by the NLRB have been hailed by organized labor as great triumphs that will promote the right to organize. But some question whether the regulations go far enough.

In December, the NLRB ruled that employers must start posting the rights of workers to join a union. This decision was met by many congratulatory press releases celebrating a great victory for unions. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka hailed these rules saying:

Every working person in America deserves to know his or her rights. Just as employers are currently required to post information regarding the laws that protect workers’ health and safety, their rights to a minimum wage and to a workplace free from discrimination, this rule ensures that workers’ rights are effectively communicated in the workplace. It is necessary in the face of widespread misunderstanding about the law and many workers’ justified fear of exercising their rights under it.

In November, the NLRB ruled that expressing one’s negative opinion of a boss using social media such as Facebook or Twitter was free speech protected by the Constitution. This was hailed as a major victory for workers trying to organize because it gave broader protection to workers criticizing their companies. In October, the NLRB issued a decision saying that employers now must electronically inform workers through email of their union busting violations. Previously companies were forced to only post a notice on a bulletin board.

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How to Succeed after Failing: Teamsters Victory at Continental Airlines

By Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

Carl Finamore

There are lots of colorful self-help gurus making a pretty good living preaching their gospel of new-age techniques that just might turn around even our worst failures. But the Teamsters Union February 12 election victory to represent 7600 ground workers at Continental Airlines shows that good old-fashioned hard work might be making a comeback.

Several hundred union organizers fanned out across the country and knocked on doors in 24 cities in preparation for the vote. This time, Teamster volunteers did not limit themselves to the large Continental hubs in Cleveland, Houston and Newark as other unions had done in failed organizing efforts over the last 12 years.

“We’ve been through this five times and I can say hands down that this is the best campaign, the strongest campaign we’ve had,” Gary Welsch accurately predicted to Teamster Magazine several months before the election in September 2009.

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The End of Labor Law Reform for Another Generation?

by Steve Early

Steve Early

Scott Brown’s defeat of Martha Coakley in the race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat has been greeted as a “game changer” for Barack Obama and his political backers. This GOP victory has deprived Democrats of their “filibuster-proof” super-majority in the Senate, making Obama’s health care plan—at least, in its current form—the most high-profile casualty of Coakley’s loss.

But, for trade unionists already disappointed with Obama, the collateral damage is far worse. Now, the White House staffers and Congressional leaders who’ve been re-assuring them that labor law reform was next on Obama’s agenda don’t even have 60 votes to prevent Republican filibustering of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)—in any form.

EFCA is, of course, a long-overdue set of amendments to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that would help boost organizing and bargaining in the private sector. The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show why EFCA is necessary, if not entirely sufficient, for a union revival. Organized labor in private industry lost 10 percent of its membership in 2009, mainly in manufacturing and construction—the worst annual decline in the last quarter century.

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Cards Stacked against Labor

By Carl Finamore

carl_finamoreAll kinds of techniques are used to reverse losing streaks in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Switching decks, tables or croupiers is one way. Another is to walk out of the casino and take your action somewhere else. It’s still a gamble but maybe with better odds.

The problem with the labor movement is that they never leave the table or take their action elsewhere. Predictably, labor’s latest major legislative goals in Congress have been pushed aside. There seems little chance now for either a viable government alternative to private health insurance or of suggested democratic reforms of the National Labor Relations Act.
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