LABOR’S CHANCE – FINALLY – FOR A TRULY FREE CHOICE
by Dick Meister
March 10, 2007
Few laws should be more important for the health of our economy and the well-being of ordinary Americans than the 69-year-old National Labor Relations Act, which promises working people the unfettered right to unionization. The law, however, has grown so feeble and is so poorly enforced that millions are being denied that fundamental right.
Which is why organized labor and its Democratic allies are waging a major campaign for a bill – the Employee Free Choice Act – that would carry out the law’s long-neglected promise. The House approved the measure 241-185 on March 1. But though the slim Democratic majority in the Senate is also certain to support it, Republicans are threatening a filibuster that could block passage. Even if the measure should squeak through Congress, President Bush is very likely to veto it.
Nevertheless, the groundwork will have been laid for enactment in 2008 if, as labor anticipates, Democrats retain control of Congress and Bush is succeeded by a Democrat.
The great need to reform the Labor Relations Act should be obvious – except to those on the Bush side of the labor-management divide who don’t relish sharing more of their profits and control of the workplace with those who do the actual work.
As both sides are well aware, the lack of firm legal rights is the main reason only about 12 percent of U.S. workers belong to unions. They know, too, that union members do much better than non-members. They’re paid an average of 30 percent more and have health insurance, pensions, paid holidays and vacations and other fringe benefits that most non-members lack, have an effective voice in determining their working conditions and play a greater role in political affairs and community activities.
It’s no wonder that thousands of employers routinely intimidate those who support or attempt to organize unions. They commonly use such tactics as ordering supervisors to spy on organizers and to threaten pro-union workers with firing, demotion or other penalties, despite the law. They order workers to attend meetings at which employers rail against unions and falsely claim that unionization will force workers to pay exorbitant dues and lead to pay cuts and layoffs or even force the employers out of business. They hire high-priced “union avoidance” consultants to help them with their dirty work.
Employers have little reason to fear government action. The penalties for the employer violations are slight, at most small fines or small back-pay settlements for workers who are wrongly fired. Workers, at any rate, fear complaining about violations because it usually takes months — if not years – for the government to act, and they meanwhile risk being fired or otherwise disciplined.
Studies by government, academic and union researchers show that fear of such illegal reprisal keeps at least 40 million workers who want to unionize from even trying. Every year, more than 60,000 of those who nevertheless do try are punished, half of them fired.
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