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Dec. 10: Workers Highlight the Freedom to Form Unions

Working families and members of civil rights, community and religious groups are highlighting the freedom to form unions, as they celebrate International Human Rights Day Dec. 10, the anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Although the freedom to join unions is protected in documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bill of Rights and U.S. labor law, union activists and their allies say employer abuses are making the right to form unions one that exists on paper only.

When workers seek to join a union, half of employers threaten to shut down partially or totally, according to Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner, and about one-quarter of employers illegally fire workers who try to form unions.

On Dec. 10, American Rights at Work, a research and advocacy group aimed at improving workers’ ability to exercise their legal rights in the workplace, will launch an online ticker that tracks the number of workers who are fired for seeking to bargain collectively or who are discriminated against for trying to form unions. Based on its analysis of statistics from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the group says one worker every 23 minutes is fired or harassed on the job for union organizing activity.

Republicans on NLRB Seriously Undermine Workers’ Freedom to Form Unions
The need to strengthen U.S. labor laws to ensure they protect workers is more critical than ever, union leaders say. An anti-worker Republican majority on the NLRB, the federal agency that oversees most union elections and interprets how labor laws are applied, has issued a series of rulings that chip away at workers’ ability to have a voice on the job. Most recently, the NLRB effectively eliminated the rights of temporary agency workers to win a voice on the job. The board ruled these workers cannot be included in a bargaining unit with permanent employees without the consent of both employers. Temporary workers make up a growing proportion of the U.S. workforce, with staffing companies employing some 2.6 million temporary and contract workers, the highest number in three years, according to the American Staffing Association.

“This decision sends our nation in the wrong direction,” says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “Temporary workers should have every right to improve their lives through collective bargaining.”

Earlier this year, the NLRB ruled that disabled employees who receive rehabilitative services from their employer are not workers and therefore are ineligible to form unions. The board also said graduate employees are students, not workers, and not entitled to the protections of federal labor law.

This spring, the NLRB also plans to review the legality of rules regarding majority sign-up procedures to form unions. Often called card-check recognition, the process enables workers to more fairly and quickly indicate whether they want a union. Majority sign-up offers an alternative to the lengthy NLRB election process, which actually encourages employers to block workers’ free choice.

Taken together, these NLRB cases “are the latest evidence of a dangerous new trend that threatens some of our most fundamental freedoms,” says Sweeney.

Employee Free Choice Act Will Level the Playing Field
During International Human Rights Day last year, union members and community allies kicked off a nationwide campaign to build support for the Employee Free Choice Act, federal legislation that will ensure when a majority of employees in a workplace decides to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating obstacles employers now use to block workers’ choice.

The law will require employers to recognize the union after workers sign cards authorizing union representation. It also provides for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes and authorizes stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.

In the year since Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the Employee Free Choice Act, the bill drew bipartisan support from 37 senators and 209 members of the House of Representatives. When the new Congress convenes this winter, pro-worker lawmakers from both parties plan to re-introduce the Employee Free Choice Act.

Take Action

Send your members of Congress a message urging them to co-sponsor the Employee Free Choice Act.

Sign up to get American Rights at Work “Eye on the NLRB” e-mails.

Learn more about the union movement’s campaign to help workers win a voice on job.

Find out more about employers’ war against worker freedom to form unions.

Read about the Employee Free Choice Act.

Take a quiz to see how much you know about employer efforts to block workers’ freedom to form unions.
Find out more about the American Rights at Work.

Read AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s statement on recent NLRB decisions that curtail workers’ rights.

Download a full-color summary of President George W. Bush’s efforts to suppress workers’ freedom to join unions from America@work.

What if congressional elections worked like NLRB union elections? We would have to kiss democracy good-bye. Find out more with this Vivian Voice animation.


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