Labor On Offense: Congress Introduces Bill to Make Union Organizing A Civil Right

Search form

Labor On Offense: Congress Introduces Bill to Make Union Organizing A Civil Right

Labor On Offense: Congress Introduces Bill to Make Union Organizing A Civil Right
Fri, 8/1/2014 - by George Zornick
This article originally appeared on The Nation

For years, the American labor movement has been on the defensive as it has become harder and harder for workers to join or maintain a union. But some House Democrats are planning a dramatic counter-offensive: a bill that would make union organizing a civil right.

Representatives Keith Ellison and John Lewis planned to introduce a bill Wednesday that would make labor organizing a basic freedom no different than freedom from racial discrimination. That sounds like a nice talking point – but this isn’t just another messaging bill.

The Ellison-Lewis legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to include protections found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include labor organizing as a fundamental right. That would give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union.

Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board – an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers.

If the NLRA were amended, however, after 180 days a worker could take his or her labor complaint from the NLRB to a federal court. This is how the law works now for civil rights complaints, which gives workers the option, after 180 days, to step outside the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process.

Then, workers would have sole discretion on whether to push a complaint, as opposed to relying on a decision by the NLRB on whether to forge ahead. Workers could also move the process along much faster than the NLRB handles complaints, which can often take years.

Ellison told The Nation that the legislation would also help workers recover more money – the NLRB will award back pay to a grieved worker minus whatever they earned while awaiting a decision, which can often amount to basically nothing. “[The NLRB] remedy, though useful and very important, and nothing in our legislation changes that, that remedy is considered slow and somewhat inadequate. For some of these union-busting law firms, [they] will say ‘so do it and we’ll just pay.’”

Ellison said he believes the labor movement needs to get back on the offensive. “With the Supreme Court in here, and what they just did in Harris v. Quinn and all the things they wrote about Abood, it’s insane to hope for the best,” he said, referring to the recent decision involving non-union public workers and their fee arrangements with unions. “I mean this Supreme Court is openly hostile to racial justice and worker justice simultaneously. So we better be moving out on both fronts.”

Ellison told MSNBC, which first reported the bill, that he got the idea from a book by Century Foundation fellows Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, titled Why Union Organizing Should Be a Civil Right. They argue that the First Amendment’s right to free association should clearly include one of the most crucial forms of association – banding together to push back against unfair treatment from employers.

Marvit told The Nation he thinks treating labor organizing as a civil right is not only constitutionally appropriate but also much more appealing to the general public. “Civil rights is something that Americans really understand, and has a legitimacy that is sort of beyond reproach,” he said. “So when you put it in civil rights terms, it’s something that really speaks to people.” (In the interest of full disclosure, Marvit has written for The Nation in the past.)

“Frankly, I think Republicans have been saying it on the other side. That’s been the message of the National Right to Work Committee for sixty years, that workers have a civil right not to join a union,” Marvit continued. “And I think that’s been a successful argument for them. It taps into this notion of your freedom to choose.”

The Nation has learned that when Ellison and Lewis were to introduce the bill on Wednesday morning, they would boast eleven other original co-sponsors: Representatives Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, Rush Holt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Karen Bass, Danny Davis, Albio Sires and Janice Hahn. All of the co-sponsors are Democrats.

Major unions will also be on board. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition will back the bill, along with The United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, told The Nation that his union was joining the push “because union organizing has been maligned. Unions have been maligned in our society. There is a value in re-defining what all of these tens of thousands of brave workers are doing as, “We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country.’”

Originally published by The Nation

 

Article Tabs

The crooked math that's going to crash American law enforcement if policies aren't changed.

There’s never been a better time to organize a general strike in the U.S. than right now, with both corporate owners and political leaders pillaging public resources for their own private gain.

Behind the words of central bankers, finance ministers and other technocrats, we're able to see countries collapse, governments overthrown, populations impoverished, societies destroyed, fascism and racism explode, and people rebel.

He's friends with Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, a best-selling author, and has a wife who cooks excellent meatball soup. Romania is ready for its Transylvanian president with German flare and know-how.

There’s never been a better time to organize a general strike in the U.S. than right now, with both corporate owners and political leaders pillaging public resources for their own private gain.

Posted 1 day 6 hours ago

It’s no exaggeration to say that the School of the Americas has painted an entire region in blood.

Posted 6 days 6 hours ago

We are continuing where the freedom fighters of the Civil Rights Movement left off – we are a new generation of young multi­racial activists willing to take up the torch and we’re not going to stand for this anymore.

Posted 6 days 5 hours ago

Now rolling into to its fourth month, the video game consumer movement known as #GamerGate continues to evolve in scope and focus as it seeks to advocate for greater ethical standards in gaming journalism.

Posted 2 days 2 hours ago

An anti-refugee wave has swept across Berlin as the December opening of six refugee container settlements nears – with one in 10 Germans now supporting National Socialism.

Posted 6 days 6 hours ago

It’s no exaggeration to say that the School of the Americas has painted an entire region in blood.

Tens of thousands of protesters streamed out of New York City's Washington Square Park on Saturday to protest the killings of unarmed black people by police officers, as part of the "Millions March

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.

A report released last month explores the often overlooked digital risk environment for NGOs and other groups.

An anti-refugee wave has swept across Berlin as the December opening of six refugee container settlements nears – with one in 10 Germans now supporting National Socialism.

Sign Up