In more than 160 countries worldwide, workers enjoy a legal entitlement to paid sick leave. The US is not among them. Instead, like such bastions of individual liberty and economic efficiency as Mongolia, Angola, and Mozambique, we leave our workers free to choose between their health and their job.
My friend and mentor Big Stu provides a succinct answer to the question, “Are unions still relevant?“
The story itself is classic Fox: feigned objectivity while implicitly slanting the story in favor of the corporate narrative. Yes, “the numbers don’t lie”. But the numbers have a history, one that Fox and other corporate outlets persistently distort or ignore altogether.
Union membership didn’t magically shrink. The decline was the intended result of a sustained ideological, political, and economic campaign aimed at redistributing wealth and power away from workers to further enrich and empower the already wealthy and powerful, and at delegitimizing every social movement and institution–including but not limited to labor unions–that dares stand up for social justice and economic democracy.
U.S. and German labor leaders announced a transatlantic alliance on Wednesday aimed at persuading Germany’s giant Deutsche Telekom AG to allow collective bargaining at its subsidiary, T-Mobile USA.
Under the agreement, which U.S. labor officials called unprecedented, German trade union Ver.di will represent T-Mobile USA workers and the Communications Workers of America in talks with Deutsche Telekom managers in Bonn.
Under the agreement, Ver.di will use its seats on Deutsche Telekom’s supervisory board to press German managers to accept union representation at T-Mobile USA and then coordinate any bargaining that follows.
As a long-time T-mobile customer, I applaud this move. As an even longer-time supporter of the labor movement, I hope we see more efforts like this.
A great resource exposing the nasty and often illegal tactics of the real “labor thugs”: corporations and their hired lackeys who block workers from exercising their legal and human right to organize for their mutual aid and protection.
In a recent post at Concurring Opinions, Tulane law professor Elizabeth Nowicki addresses the issue of whether racist or sexist slurs made by law students should weigh in their character and fitness evaluation for bar admission. In the subsequent comments, the discussion turns to the broader issue of foul language among lawyers. One commenter suggests that “law students who lack sufficient tact and imagination” to refrain from coarse epithets might better consider alternative occupations like “longshoreperson, sea captain, drill sergeant, and rap artist”.
The comment reminded me of my own experience as a lawyer who represented longshorepersons (though my clients would have laughed at me if I’d used that term), Teamsters, cops, fire fighters, and workers in other occupations reserved for those lacking in tact and imagination. Shortly after I started, I was speaking with my parents, who asked how I liked the job. “It’s great,” I replied, “I get paid to wear a suit and say motherfucker.”
I think the basic principal of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union, join a union is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice are ones that I agree with. But I will certainly listen to all parties involved including from labor and the business community which I know considers this to be the devil incarnate. I will listen to parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.
You know, now if the business community’s argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions and we think that is damaging to the economy then they probably won’t get too far with me. If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see. Then I think that’s a conversation that not only myself but folks in labor would be willing to have.
These comments are significant, not so much because they reaffirm Obama’s support for the EFCA, but because they indicate that he recognizes the real issue at stake in the debate over the bill. It is not–as opponents misleadingly suggest–a disagreement over means (card-check v. secret ballots), but a fundamental dispute about ends: whether federal law should make it easier for workers to join unions.
For nearly 75 years, it has been the stated public policy of the United States–as declared in Section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act–that union representation is beneficial for workers, for labor-management relations, and for the economy as a whole:
It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.
For just as long, management interests have fought tooth and nail to place stumbling blocks in the way of workers who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in law. In recent decades, increasingly strident management opposition, combined with a weakened more pro-management NLRB, has resulted in a steep decline in union representation among private-sector workers. To put it quite simply, the existing system for establishing union representation through NLRB-supervised elections is broken. Employers, backed by high-paid “union avoidance” consultants, engage in high-pressure tactics to intimidate workers who attempt to organize, in many cases flagrantly violating the law, confident that they will face no serious consequences.
It is against this background that the labor movement has pressed for legal reform, to restore the NLRA’s promise to “protect the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing”. The card-check provision of the EFCA, which has generated so much controversy, is but a means to that end. Most labor advocates would indeed be quite willing to engage in a good-faith discussion and examination of other ways to enable workers to exercise the right to organize. The problem is that the opponents of the EFCA and card-check are not arguing in good faith.
Opponents of the EFCA purport to care about protecting workers freedom of choice; what they really care about is preventing workers from choosing to join unions. While opponents of card-check tout the supposed democratic virtues of “secret ballots”, the reality is that the existing system of NRLB elections–under which employers are able to dominate and manipulate the process, and thwart workers’ desire for representation–is fundamentally undemocratic. For management, the undemocratic nature of the current system is a feature, not a bug. Regardless of what means labor advocates were to propose, management interests would object to any change that might make it easier for workers to organize.
Consequently, whatever theoretical merit there may be to pragmatist arguments in favor of compromise on card-check, there is no real prospect of compromise on this issue, so long as one side refuses to accept the principle that workers should be able to decide for themselves, without interference or intimidation by employers, whether to join a union.
(Thanks to WorkplaceProf Blog for the tip.)
My trip to eastern North Carolina this weekend wasn’t all fun and games and pirates. I came out here to meet with a group of truckers who are organizing a union after growing fed up with having their livlihoods left to the whim of the bosses. This is a remarkable group in many ways. In a region where the Klan not too long ago paraded openly (we’re only a short drive from where a sign along Highway 301 once proclaimed “The Klan welcomes you to Smithfield. Help fight communism and integration.”), and where Confederate flags are still a common sight, this is a group of African-American and White workers joining together in solidarity. And in a state with the lowest rate of union membership in the U.S., they are doing so under the banner of an explicitly radical and militant union: the Industrial Workers of the World. The meeting — in what my son described as a “rickety old” community center — was almost like taking a step back in time; yet, for these workers, the effort represents a great leap forward. If there really is to be a revival of unions in this country, it won’t come from the top down, nor through legislative grants. It will come from the workers themselves, asserting their own collective interests and collective power.
It was in support of another such group of workers that Dr. King was in Memphis in April 1968. That’s why these North Carolina truckers chose this weekend to formally launch their union. I can think of no better way that I might have honored Dr. King’s legacy than by coming here to meet with these workers and support their effort.
Tomorrow, Dr. King’s famous dream will come one step closer to fruition, as the United States witnesses the inauguration of our first African-American President. I have plenty of reservations about Barack Obama, and little hope that his Presidency really signals a fundamental change in this nation’s politics or policy in a radical-democratic direction. Yet, his inauguration does undeniably represent an important and joyful moment. There will be plenty of time for critique and cyncism after tomorrow. For now, I’m happy to join in celebration.