Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘right to organize’

How To Protect The Right To Organize

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Abigail Disney, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., called out the family business’ current CEO last month for making what’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth pretty darn miserable for its workers.

All of the company profits shouldn’t be going into executives’ pockets, she said in a Washington Post column. The workers whose labor makes those profits should not live in abject poverty.

This is what labor leaders have said for two centuries. But Disney executives and bank executives and oil company executives don’t play well with others. They won’t give workers more unless workers force them to. And the only way to do that is with collective bargaining – that is, the power of concerted action.

The United States recognized this in the 1930s and gave Americans the right to organize labor unions under the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA). The increase in unionization encouraged by the law significantly diminished income inequality over the next forty years. American workers prospered as a result of having a voice in the workplace.

But right-wing politicians, at the beck and call of CEOs, have chiseled large chunks out of labor organizing rights, diminishing unions and breeding vast economic disparities.

The decline in union density accounts for one-third of the rise in income inequality among men and one-fifth among women, Economic Policy Institute researchers found.

The solution, of course, is the same as it was in 1935. In order to restore balance to an astronomically uneven economy, Congress must restore workers’ power to organize. Democrats took a first steptoward accomplishing that when they introduced the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. House and Senate. It would give back to workers the power they need to demand their fair share of the profits created by the sweat of their brows.

It’s great that some billionaires and millionaires like Abigail Disney want CEOs to give their workers raises. But workers need the PRO Act, the power of collective bargaining, to make them do it. Workers know this intrinsically and want union representation. A survey last year showed that nearly half of non-union workers would join a union if given the opportunity to do so. For that to happen, the law must change.

The PRO Act addresses several major problems with the current gutted NLRA that render too many workers powerless. Its intent is to give working people a fair shot when they try to form a union and bargain for a better life for themselves and their families.

The defects of the current law can be clearly seen in the case of Kumho Tire. In 2017, the union I lead, the United Steelworkers (USW), filed a petition to represent workers at the major international tire producer’s plant in Macon, Ga. The company ran a vicious $500,000 campaign against the union, including daily, mandatory captive audience meetings, designed to coerce workers into voting against union representation.

Kumho also fired the lead supporter of the organizing drive, Mario Smith, to intimidate his fellow workers. There are currently no penalties for employers who take such retaliatory actions. The best a wrongly fired worker can hope for is receiving back wages, but only once the case is settled, which can sometimes be years after the termination.

Meanwhile, corporations routinely forbid outside union organizers from entering the workplace, and workers are restricted from speaking about the organizing campaign while on the clock. Such limitations violate the intent of the NLRA, which was to encourage collective bargaining, not hinder it.

The USW filed more than 30 Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against Kumho Tire, including for the unjust termination of Mario Smith, but this process takes time, sometimes years. And time doesn’t pay unjustly fired workers’ bills.

Under the PRO Act, rather than making fired workers endure long periods of uncertainty while waiting for their ULP cases to be heard by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), unions would be able to immediately seek an injunction to reinstate employees like Smith while their cases are pending. The bill would also authorize the NLRB to assess monetary penalties for each violation in which a company wrongfully terminates a worker or causes serious economic harm.

And those mandatary captive audience meetings would be banned, giving workers the power and freedom to decide for themselves if union representation is right for them.

The PRO Act would also forbid freeriding, which is when workers who choose not to join the union but benefit from union representation don’t pay fair share fees to cover the cost of bargaining and administering the collective bargaining agreement. This would beat back one of the major assaults on labor rights—so-called “right to work” laws—by allowing unions to function fully for their members.

The bill proposes a system to ensure that workers who succeed in a union organizing drive actually obtain a first collective bargaining agreement, establishing terms for pay, benefits and working conditions. As it stands now, nearly half of newly formed unions are denied a first labor agreement as the result of companies’ refusal to negotiate in good faith.

Volkswagen, for example, has spent years and millions thwarting their employees’ attempts to unionize at the VW plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Since 2015, when a group of 160 skilled-trades workers in the plant voted to join the United Autoworkers Union (UAW), the company has refused to negotiate and appealed to the NLRB and the courts to get the election overturned. With courts and the now Republican-dominated NLRB upending union-friendly Obama rulings, that looks likely.

Not to be defeated, however, the UAW has collected signatures from 65 percent of the plant’s 1,709 hourly workers, including the 160 skilled-trades workers. The cards say the workers want an election for union representation, and the UAW asked the NLRB to set a date. Instead, the GOP NLRB postponed the election indefinitely, giving VW all the time it wants to continue waging its aggressive anti-union campaign on their workers.

Newspaper columns and calls for compassion by Patriotic Millionaires like Abigail Disney can only do so much to convince CEOs to treat their workers fairly. Americans need more than nice rich people speaking up for them—they need the power to speak and stand up for themselves. An economy is only as healthy as its workers are empowered.

The PRO Act is the pathway to that power.

This article was originally published at Our Future on May 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, is the International President of the United Steelworkers (USW) union and is the second Canadian to head the union. He is also a vice president of the AFL-CIO. Gerard is co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.

L.A. Port Strike Today Over Federal Contractor Wage Theft

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

dave.johnson

 

“An order that creates a culture of legal compliance could have a transformative impact on American industry.” George Faraday, Legal and Policy Director at Good Jobs Nation

 

Truck drivers and warehouse workers working for federal contractors at the Port of Los Angeles are striking for 48 hours to draw attention to wage theft and other violations. These workers work for companies that contract with the federal Department of Defense. They say they have been misclassified as “independent contractors”, had their wages stolen and have been retaliated against for exercising the right to organize.

The workers are doing this because President Obama’s Fair Pay & Safe Workplaces Executive Order protecting low-wage workers on federal contracts from wage theft and other labor law violations takes effect today. Contractors are supposed to start reporting whether they are found in violation of wage theft and other labor laws and regulations. Later the government can use this information in the decision process for awarding contracts.

On a press call discussing today’s strike, Jaime Martinez, a port worker, explained that he has worked for K&R, a federal contractor, for 19 years. “We are on strike today for issues including respect and and wage theft. We earn very low wages, with no benefits and no workers compensation because we are classified as independent contractors.”

Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

July’s post, Obama’s ‘Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order’ explained,

President Obama’s executive order cracks down on federal contractors who break hiring, health and safety, and wage laws. It also prohibits employers from requiring mandatory arbitration agreements with employees of federal contractors, in order that workers can get their day in an actual court instead of being forced to appear in front of an arbitrator picked and paid for by the company when there is a dispute involving the Civil Rights Act or related to sexual assault or harassment.

Specifically, the new rules require companies that bid on federal contracts to disclose wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, and civil rights violations from the prior three years. Federal contractor hiring officers are to take serious violations into account before awarding contracts. These officers will be issued guidelines on whether certain violations “rise to the level of a lack of integrity or business ethics.”

This Is A Big Deal

According to Good Jobs Nation this will affect a large number of workers around the country,

  • A U.S. Senate investigation revealed that federal contractors were responsible for nearly one-third of the largest U.S. Department of Labor penalties for wage theft and other legal violations;
  • A report by the National Employment Law Project found that 1 in 3 low-wage federal contract workers are victims of wage theft; and
  • An analysis by the Government Accountability Office showed that known legal violators have continued to receive lucrative federal contracts because of lax government oversight and enforcement.

“Creates A Culture Of Legal Compliance”

Companies with federal government contracts employ 1 in 4 American workers. Thanks to this executive order they will have to demonstrate a record of labor law compliance, including wage and hour and health and safety laws. On the press call discussing today’s strike Good Jobs Nation’s Legal and Policy Director George Faraday said, “An order that creates a culture of legal compliance could have a transformative impact on American industry.”

Fair Pay Hotline And Website

Also today, Good Jobs Nation is launching the first-ever national legal hotline – 1-844-PAY-FAIR – for federal contract workers to report law-breaking. Information is also available at goodjobsnation.org/payfair,

If you are a worker on a federal contract and you believe that are not receiving the pay and benefits owed to you under federal laws – like the Service Contract Act or the Davis Bacon Act – contact Good Jobs Legal Defense at 1-844-PAY-FAIR or click below.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 

New U.N. Report Shows Just How Awful Globalization and Informal Employment Are for Workers

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

elizabeth grossmanFreedom of peaceful assembly and association, says a new United Nations report, “are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.” But these rights, says the report, are being jeopardized by the recent dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and their dependence on global supply chains and the growing informal and migrant workforce. While these rights are most imperiled in the world’s poorest countries, workers in the United States are also facing these problems.

Undertaken by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world’s workers “labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected.” In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has “exponentially expanded its growth.” As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world’s workers, now experience what the report calls “precarious employment.” More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way.

This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers—and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, “worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment.” It encompasses professions of all skill levels, from teachers, to taxi drivers, call-center and agricultural workers. These arrangements often involve on-call schedules, short-term contracts and multi-layered subcontracts—all of which add to workers’ difficulties in asserting rights and difficulties in enforcing labor laws. Women, because they make up the majority of the world’s agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections.

As anyone working in this world knows, such jobs do not have typical employment benefits like health and unemployment insurance, sick leave, overtime pay and other wage protections. Workers have little opportunity to organize, form unions or bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. This situation, says the U.N. report, is contributing to wealth inequality worldwide.

But it’s not just globalization that’s swelling the ranks of workers whose right to organize is in jeopardy. Conflict, war and climate change are also contributing to the world’s growing migrant population that’s now its largest since World War II, notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. These people “have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions,” says De Souza. And, he explains, these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics—sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)

The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)

The United States is no exception

While the impact of working without the freedom to organize is most dire in the world’s poorest countries, “the U.S. is no exception to the types of labor rights abuses the report lays out,” Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair tells In These Times. “The abuses of labor and the changes in the economy, and how that disadvantages labor and labor rights—the U.S. is as much caught up in that as any other country,” says Sinclair.

The economy’s structure is changing “in a way that disadvantages even more workers,” Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the “gig economy,” the report reflects the fact that “increasingly, people don’t have employers that are responsible for workers’ rights,” says Sinclair. And this makes it “harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections.”

The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers. The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers “who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers.”

Sinclair also notes the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. “Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws,” he says. The report describes what’s happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place—and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.

Solutions

When it comes to solutions, the U.N. report sees little progress in support of workers’ freedom to assemble and organize coming from voluntary corporate social responsibility and auditing programs. Such programs, says the report, “are not a substitute for legally binding, robust enforcement of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.” It calls on businesses to refrain from anti-union policies and practices and to support labor rights throughout their supply chains, especially for workers in “vulnerable situations,” including migrant and minority group workers.

Despite this trend, Oxfam’s Sinclair says he sees “some real signs of hope in the legislative work around the right to $15 per hour and the new federal overtime regulation.” He also notes that, albeit slowly, corporations are beginning to realize that “rights erosion is not a sustainable business model.” That said, he also fears that we’re moving towards “a bipolar work situation,” where “some people have workers’ rights and some people don’t.” But because this situation now affects everyone from university teachers to auto manufacturing and farm workers, he also holds out hope the issue of workers’ rights will finally get substantive attention.

“We welcome the U.N. report and the opportunity it provides to raise awareness and highlight the many challenges workers still face globally in exercising this fundamental right to freedom of association,” Carol Pier, deputy undersecretary for international labor affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, said in a statement. “Working to protect and promote workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively is a priority for the Department, at home and abroad.”

Currently on the U.N. agenda: a legally-binding human rights agreement for corporations and businesses.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Trump Las Vegas hotel is not letting up on its fight against its own workers

Friday, February 26th, 2016

Workers at the Donald Trump co-owned Trump International Hotel Las Vegas voted to unionize. When hotel management challenged the union vote, the National Labor Relations Board rejected the challenge. But the Trump Organization fights on—to deny its workers their right to organize. The claim, of course, is that the big bad union intimidated the workers into voting to unionize:

“We will continue our fight to ensure a fair election for our valued associates, many of whom vigorously oppose union representation,” said Jill Martin, an attorney for The Trump Organization, in a statement to reporters. “The hearing officer’s recommendations erroneously disregarded the severe misconduct undertaken by Union agents, which clearly impacted an incredibly close election.” Trump management has until next week to formally challenge the NLRB recommendation, and then the Board’s regional chapter will determine whether or not to certify the union. Even if the local board backs the workers, Trump can further delay by appealing their ruling to the federal board in Washington, D.C.

That intimidation claim is what the NLRB’s local hearing officer already rejected. There is good reason, though, to believe that the vote was fraught with intimidation and retaliation … coming from management:

For some workers, like Donato, that wait is especially painful. After three years working at the hotel, Donato was suspended and then fired shortly after the union election, which he thinks was retaliation for his open support for the union. He is desperately hoping to win his job back as part of the bargaining process, and says he is mostly worried for his elderly mother and siblings in the Philippines, who depend on the money he sends them.

That wasn’t the first time the Trump hotel management went after a worker for exercising their legal right to organize. But even if all of management’s claims that the union harassed workers into voting yes are thrown out in the end, they can delay the final recognition of the union and delay a contract for months, at least, inflicting pain on the workers who’ve already risked so much to fight for a better workplace.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

 

 

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