Labor Built this Country - It's Time to Take it Back

Well this seems like something we could get done next cycle. Jeff Farmer is the director of organizing for the Teamsters. I'm going to thank them preemptively for our new servers, since that's what's going to keep this site running on election day. -Matt

Organized Labor was dealt another damaging blow last week by President Bush's cronies on the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB ruled 3-2, along party lines, that millions of nurses and other workers are "supervisors," and therefore excluded from collective bargaining rights.

The so-called "Kentucky River decision" was pretty much expected from the Big Business shills who sit on the NLRB. Not only will 8 million workers lose their labor law protections, including their right to form unions, but companies will be even more emboldened under the new expansive definition of "supervisor" to reclassify workers in their effort to dismantle organizing drives.

Our Way: Free Choice
I can continue my rant here on why this is another successful maneuver in Karl Rove's playbook to destroy unions, and in doing so, the middle class, but I think it's more important to find opportunity, especially with a Democrat-controlled House and hopefully Senate next year.

That opportunity is called the Employee Free Choice Act. Simply put, the bill would require employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards for union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes, and authorize stronger penalties for violations of the law when workers seek to form a union.

And thanks to the good work of Gov. Tom Vilsack, the Democratic Party is unified on the bill with the DLC, Change to Win and the AFL-CIO. Democrats are finally waking up to the harsh reality that without a strong labor movement, their party grows weaker. Change To Win and the AFL-CIO are working to support its passage and it may even stand a chance with the improved outlook for Dems next month.

After all, as former Sen. and vice-presidential nominee John Edwards repeats often when speaking to labor unions: "If anyone in America can sign a card to join the Republican Party, they should be able to sign a card and join a union."

And he's right.

The right of workers in this country to freely organize and bargain collectively is one of the sacred freedoms we have as Americans. It is just as important as free speech.

We are only three sponsors away from a majority in the House, and we've got 42 sponsors in the Senate. See if your representative and senators are sponsors.

Their Way: Dirty Tricks
Big Business has eviscerated the strong labor laws in this country that protected workers and created a strong middle class. Companies now freely manipulate the system, terrorizing and firing workers who dare to stand up for themselves in their fight for a voice on the job and a stronger economic future for their families.

The so-called secret ballot elections are a joke. According to a report issued by American Rights at Work:


  • 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers.

  • 49 percent of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union. Two percent of employers actually do so.

  • 51 percent of employers coerce workers into opposing unions with bribery or favoritism.

  • 82 percent of employers hire high-priced union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives.

  • 91 percent of employers force workers to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors.


But the threats and intimidation take their toll. The report goes on to say that:

  • Aided by weak labor laws that fail to protect workers' rights, employers successfully manipulate the government-supervised union recognition process and abuse their power to significantly influence the outcome of elections.

  • In 91 percent of union recognition petitions filed with the NLRB, a majority of workers indicated they wanted a union before the process began.

  • However, unions were victorious in only 31 percent of campaigns.

Companies will do anything to prevent free and fair elections (Sound familiar? And you thought Florida in 2000 was bad). They can't compete with unions by offering their workers better health care, pensions and wages, so they turn to Nixon's bag of dirty tricks to get their way. No wonder union membership is declining.

Take the case in Texas, where the infamously anti-union, anti-worker Wal-Mart shut down its meat-cutting departments nationwide after a dozen butchers in Texas voted for a union. Wal-Mart also closed a store in Quebec rather than recognize a union.

At the Crossroads
Today, unions are organizing like never before by negotiating what are called "card-check and neutrality agreements" with companies to circumvent the unfair NLRB election process. That means companies agree to remain neutral, and if a majority of workers sign cards in support of the union, the employer agrees to recognize the union.

We're having success at the Teamsters with "card check and neutrality" agreements, organizing workers at Menlo Worldwide Forwarding, USF Bestway and UPS Freight.

But these successful efforts by the Teamsters and other unions are at risk of being derailed by Bush's henchmen on the NLRB, which has agreed to consider the anti-worker National Rights at Work case claiming "card check and neutrality" agreements illegally deny workers of a secret ballot election.

Our country is at a crossroads.

Will we continue on a path where the gap between the rich and poor grows greater with every passing day, or will we strengthen our middle class by strengthening union protections for America's working men and women?

Organized labor built this country. It's time to take it back.

Tags: Bush, Card Check Agreements, Dana Corporation, Employee Free Choice Act, HR 1696, Kentucky River, Kentucky River Case, Labor, Labor Law, Metaldyne, Neutrality Agreements, NLRB, Oakwood Case, organizing, S 842, Supervisory Employees under Labor Law, Teamsters, Unions (all tags)

Comments

11 Comments

neutrality from "liberal" companies

first, thanks so much for posting this.  I am really interested in working on ways to help labor unions regain their strength, so i'm glad to see the teamsters and mydd working together.

here's something i was thinking about the other day: companies with a liberal clientele while being aggressive union busters.  what got me thinking was a conversation with a friend of mine who used to work at starbucks; their resistance to IWW's organizing efforts is pretty sleazy.

but there are plenty of other cases of companies which cultivate a liberal image, yet engage in union busting.  Whole Foods, Toyota and JetBlue also come to mind.

for the most part, as i understand it, these companies aren't the kinds of places that the teamsters organize; they're more likely to be organized by SEIU, UAW and AFA.  but I'd like to know if the Teamsters or any of the other CTW unions, or for that matter AFL-CIO unions, have any thoughts about what can be done to bring these companies into the union fold?

one thing that occurs to me: shareholder proxies.   with more and more well-to-do liberals buying into the stock market, getting liberals to buy stocks and then vote for union friendliness at shareholder meetings (or assign their proxies to unions) might be a very effective tactic.  of course, this tactic could be even more effective if some union pension funds also got in on the act.

i think this tactic would be more effective than boycotts, because a lot of people like buying these companies' goods and don't like being guilted out of doing so.  moreover, in light of the energy crisis we're facing, asking people not to support environmentally friendly companies is tricky.

anyway, i'm curious what your thoughts are on that.

by Shai Sachs 2006-10-09 07:39AM | 0 recs
Re: neutrality from "liberal" companies

Actually, the Teamsters are doing exactly that. We are using the millions of dollars in our pension funds to pressure companies into living up to their images. I'm away from my PC right now so I'll post a link to our Capital Strategies Dept later today.

by Teamsters 2006-10-09 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: neutrality from "liberal" companies

cool, thanks!

do you think it makes sense to ask liberal individual investors to do the same?  and do you think that on the whole such efforts are likely to be successful?  the skeptical part of me thinks that proxy votes are good at giving companies a headache but not much more.  on the other hand, i understand that in some very high publicity movements, like the anti-apartheid movement of the 80's, they have been successful.

by Shai Sachs 2006-10-09 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: neutrality from "liberal" companies

The main thing is for liberal shareholders -- all liberals, for that matter -- to tune in to organized labor's issues. If there is a strike in your community, support the strikers. Don't cross the line. Tell the strikers you support what they are doing; tell management that you support the strikers too. When it starts effecting the bottom line, corporations will start to pay attention.

Here's the information on our corporate governance work.

We also rally outside shareholder meetings when we have active campaigns, such when we took American school bus drivers to discuss their issues with UK-based FirstGroup. We also rallied at United Technologies shareholders meeting when our workers were striking Sikorsky Aircraft.

But you are right, rallies and proxy votes alone are not going to get the job done. We need broad grassroots support to make a difference. That's what happened with the anti-apartheid movement. Union issues have to become everyone's issues. And they truly are: health care, decent wages, workplace safety, highway safety, retirement security, national security.

by Teamsters 2006-10-09 11:08AM | 0 recs
It's a Matter of Life and Death

It's a major health care issue now. Nurses in Kauai are on strike over the quality of patient care. Management has tried to cut costs by making nurses do jobs that they aren't adequately trained to do and by giving them too many patients at one time.
http://www.hawaiinurses.org/WhyAreTheNur sesStillOnStrike.php

Management is trying to crush the union that is standing up for you when you are sick. Yes, it's a life and death matter even if you don't visit or live in Kauai. Do you want an overworked, unhappy nurse caring for you or your family? Corporate hospitals across America are likely to follow the union busting tactics developed in Hawaii so it's coming to your neighborhood soon if you don't act to stop it now.

by FishOutofWater 2006-10-09 07:43AM | 0 recs
Fed Ex

Jeff,

What's the status of unionizing Fed Ex employees (or contractors as Fed Ex tries to call them)?

by adamterando 2006-10-09 10:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Fed Ex

Actually we have a toehold in Mass. There the regional -- and probably most liberal -- NLRB has ruled again that FedEx's "independent contractor" Home Delivery drivers are in fact employees. We have an election there Oct. 20.

For those of you who don't know about FedEx, TeamsterPower wrote a good blog on it.

by Teamsters 2006-10-09 11:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Fed Ex

But like you said, that's the most progressive NLRB board. Given Fed Ex's anti-union behavior, I doubt they'd ever  agree to card-check neutrality (at least not while they have the entire federal government in support of them). So what's the strategy for the rest of the country? Do the regional decisions by NLRB in Boston carry weight in other regions of the country? Do you publicize a massive boycott campaign?

by adamterando 2006-10-09 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Fed Ex

You're right. This isn't going to be an easy fight. And discussing specific strategies in a public forum would tip our hand to FedEx.

The Teamsters have resolved to help FedEx workers win the right to organize in whatever form that takes -- card check/neutrality or through elections.

The string of NLRB rulings that FedEx Ground drivers are employees is putting more pressure on the company to change its model. That's good for employees and increases our odds of organizing FedEx facilities across the country.

FedEx Ground is being scrutinized by the Board, by the civil courts, by the states and by the IRS. Although Board decisions - like civil court decisions - are not legally "binding" in other jurisdictions if conditions are radically different, it would be difficult to overturn existing rulings with other regional decisions.  

Meanwhile, we are publicizing the anti-worker practices at FedEx generally, and the "contractor scam" at FedEx Ground specifically, to give consumers more information to make choices on where to take their business.

by Teamsters 2006-10-10 08:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Fed Ex

If you want to follow our FedEx organizing efforts, visit http://www.fedexwatch.org.

by Teamsters 2006-10-10 09:52AM | 0 recs
One or two puzzles here

First, on the substance of the NLRB on the Kentucky River cases (which I discussed previously here).

Struggling to get a handle on the point at issue, it seemed to me that the question of grades of employees not protected by the Wagner Act has existed ever since the Act was passed.

There was no specific provision covering the question in the Act; and I assume there was uncertainty until the Packard case in 1947 decided that foremen were indeed covered. Whereupon Taft Hartley supposedly reversed the decision with what is (I think) basically the law on supervisors as it exists today.

I can't see that it can have been much of a surprise that the relevant SCOTUS decisions in the last decade and more would lead to the recent result in the Oakwood and related cases.

Had the Dems wished to address the problem of defining the cut-off for excluding employees above a certain level in the organization chart from Wagner Act benefits, they could have done so in happier times - say, in 1965 after LBJ's landslide. I'm not clear whether any attempt has been made to do so since 1947.

Now that the NRLB has ruled, what will the Dems' policy be? Not so much for the 110th, when Bush's veto pen will be poised, but for the (hopefully united) Dem government in the 111th and 112th.

Second, the Employee Free Choice Act is S 842 and HR 1696. (The link in the post is a temporary one - all THOMAS links with temp in the URL go dead after half an hour or so.)

The tally of 215 cosponsors for the House bill is impressive - I assume that a discharge petition wasn't tried because GOP like Shays said they'd cosponsor but not sign a petition.

(The Senate bill only seems to have Dem cosponsors - neither Chafee nor the Maine girls are on the list.)

When the post says

it may even stand a chance with the improved outlook for Dems next month.

surely it'll be killed in the Senate even if the Dems get to 51, to save Bush the embarrassment of needing to get out his veto pen?

Third, I see that the NRLB decision to review the card check case (Dana Corp/Metaldyne) dates from June 2004.

Again, I'm not clear what can be done until the Dems take control of both elected branches - and find a way to stymie GOP filibusters (nuclear option, yay!) - and remedial legislation.

(Of course, a Dem prez would appoint a friendly Board; and - I'm supposing! - no notion of stare decisis or precedent would preclude a Dem Board from reversing a decision on card check by the current one. But, even if so, that would take time (clearly, given the time already elapsed on the Dana Corp case!) and would be liable to re-reversal the next time a GOP prez takes office, unless the legislation had been changed in the meantime.)

Fascinating stuff - though very much not my area of expertise..

by skeptic06 2006-10-09 11:07AM | 0 recs

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