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6/11/2005

New Report: Workers Seeking Unions Denied Fundamental Democratic Rights

Source: AFL-CIO

An independent report concludes the U.S. union election process administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) systematically violates the fundamental rights that govern U.S. elections, denying workers the freedom to form unions.

“No political challenger could get elected under these guidelines,” says Gordon Lafer, author of the report,
Free and Fair? How Labor Law Fails U.S. Democratic Election Standards. “The system is so corrupt that it doesn’t remotely resemble the democratic process we think of when we use the term election.”

Employers Deny Free Speech, Harass Workers Seeking a Voice at WorkLafer, a professor at the University of Oregon, points out how at every step of the union election process, NLRB procedures fail to live up to the standards of U.S. democracy and the standards the U.S. government uses to determine if foreign elections are free and fair. According to the report, employers enjoy a one-sided advantage in representation elections while employees seeking a union face significant barriers. For example:

Workers are restricted from openly distributing literature while employers have free reign to do so.

Employers deny essential employee information to thwart pro-union workers’ access to their co-workers.
Employers and supervisors practice various forms of economic coercion with the clear intent to grant or take away privileges based upon an employee’s position on the union.

Existing labor law allows employers to indefinitely delay recognition of a union through a drawn-out appeals process.

“Every high school civics student knows that elections aren’t fair without free speech, equal access to voters and the media, and freedom from voter coercion,” says David Bonior, chairman of
American Rights at Work, the advocacy group that released the report on June 7. “The system for union recognition is badly broken and profoundly undemocratic. Any reform of existing labor law must begin with this understanding.”

Union Movement Supports Employee Free Choice ActThe AFL-CIO and allies are strongly supporting the Employee Free Choice Act (S. 842 and H.R. 1696 ), sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and George Miller (D-Calif.). The Employee Free Choice Act would strengthen protections for workers’ freedom to choose by requiring employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes and authorize stronger penalties for violation of the law when workers seek to form a union.

The hypocrisy of the standards that govern union election process is evident when compared with the standards the U.S. government uses to determine if foreign elections are free and fair, according to Free and Fair? The Bush administration, which opposes the Employee Free Choice Act, in 2002 faulted the government of the Ukraine for failing to “ensure a level playing field for all political parties” in its national elections.

The Bush State Department specifically criticized Ukraine officials for pressuring employees of state-owned enterprises to support the ruling party and for allowing university officials to instruct faculty and students to vote for particular candidates. The ruling party candidates also took advantage of public offices for meeting spaces while denying suitable meeting space to the opposition.

“If transposed onto the grounds of a U.S. workplace, everything that occurred in this flawed election in Ukraine would be legal,” the report says. “Employers are perfectly free to use workplace space for partisan meetings while denying use of that space to union supporters, to instruct employees on how to vote and to pressure employees (in every way short of an explicit threat) to vote against unionization.”

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