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Viewpoint: Employers put legal obstacles in path of workers’ union efforts

Viewpoint: Employers put legal obstacles in path of workers’ union efforts

Paul F. Cole offers his thoughts on the Employee Free Choice Act.

The United States is facing the worst economic times since the Great Depression with working families being hit the hardest. In the past eight years, corporate profits have doubled, productivity has increased by 15 percent, yet the average household income has dropped by more than $2,000. Unemployment is skyrocketing, health care coverage dwindling and pensions are being depleted.

So what does Carl Strock propose in his Dec. 14 column as his number one priority for the incoming Obama Administration? Veto the Employee Free Choice Act that would reform America’s one-sided labor law.

Strock says, “If a majority of employees could be intimidated by union organizers into signing cards, the union would prevail.”

“Could be,” Mr. Strock? “The Labor Union Strongarm Act,” Mr. Strock?

Strock does not cite one bit of evidence for his assertion. In fact, there have already been a number of voluntary “card check” elections and there has been no evidence of “intimidation” by unions.

Employer tactics

Intimidation and “strongarm” tactics are the chosen modus operandi of many employers.

A study by the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations points out that employers illegally fire at least one worker for union activity during organizing campaigns 25 percent of the time, hire consultants or union-busters to help the fight union organizing drives 75 percent of the time, force employees to attend one-on -one meetings with their own supervisors against the union 78 percent of the time and force employees to attend mandatory, closed-door meetings against the union 92 percent of the time.

As a result, employer misconduct has skyrocketed. According to the National Labor Relations Board, between 2002 and 2004 more than 20,000 workers per year were illegally disciplined or fired for engaging in legally protected union activity, up from 6,000 in 1969 and fewer than 1,000 per year in the 1950s.

Employer interference has a devastating impact on workers’ freedom to choose a union.

According to a February, 2005, Peter D. Hart Research Associates poll, 53 percent of America’s nonunion workers — in other words, 57 million workers — want a union in their workplace. By contrast, only 80,000 workers succeeded informing a union last year through the National Labor Relations Board representation election process — little more than one-tenth of 1 percent of those who say they want a union.

MIT Professor Richard Freeman notes, “The National Labor Relations Act has institutionalized a process that effectively gives management near veto power over whether or not workers become organized.” In September, 2000, Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s most respected human rights organizations, published a historic, book-length report on workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain collectively in the United States, after an 18-month survey.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth summarized the report’s findings:

“Our findings are disturbing, to say the least. Loophole-ridden laws, paralyzing delays, and feeble enforcement have led to a culture of impunity in many areas of U.S. labor law and practice.

“Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against workers’ freedom of association that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers.”

There is a legitimate debate on how to reform the broken National Labor Relations Act but there is a growing consensus that a more level playing field is required if workers are to have an unfettered choice as to whether they would like to be represented by a union or not.

The view from here is that the Employee free Choice Act is the most sensible approach.

Paul F. Cole lives in Loudonville and is the executive director of the American Labor Studies Center.

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