Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Workers punished in war against unions

Private employers in the United States are relying more than ever on coercive and punitive tactics against workers seeking their legal and moral right to union representation.

Punishments include firing, threatening to fire, threatening to close the worksite, reducing wages and benefits, close monitoring of personal activities, and various forms of harassment, which in combination create an atmosphere of fear.

Further, employers often frustrate unionization by delaying the secret ballot vote that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conducts to decide on union representation. In the most egregious cases, those elections were stalled by three to five years.

Evcn when the NLRB does hold an election and even when the union “succeeds in making it through all the hoops that it takes to win the election,” employers can fight on by actively resisting the workers’ right to a collective bargaining contract. In fact, according to NLRB data for the 1999-2003 period, 52 percent of newly formed unions had no collective bargaining contract one year after a successful election, 37 percent none after two years.
Those are some highlights of scandalous employer behavior, legal, illegal, and quasi-legal, described in the study No Holds Barred: the Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing released May 20.

“Our labor law system is broken,” Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner. author of the five-year study, concludes toward the end of her 31-page report published by the American Rights at Work Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute.

A Three-Front War

Yes, the report documents that the system is broken. But it also offers the latest evidence that many individual employers and the key employer organizations in the United States are waging an aggressive war against unions and against a basic human right – the right of workers to form a union and to have it operate as a union.

So it should be no surprise that American organized business is also waging that war on two other fronts (neither mentioned in the new report):

-- It is fighting tooth and nail against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would go a long way toward fixing a broken system.

-- It is internationalizing that anti-union and anti-worker war by its relentless opposition to having free trade and investment agreements protect the rights and interests of workers and worker organizations in the way those agreements already protect the rights and interests of business people and business organizations.

In an interview published May 20 in the New York Times, Randall K. Johnson, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president, questioned Dr. Bronfenbrenner’s objectivity, but did not address the substance of her report. As of 2 p.m. May 20, I could find no relevant statement on the Chamber’s Website.

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