By Robert Creamer
Political organizer, strategist and author
The right to collective bargaining in the workplace is a human right — just as fundamental as the right to free speech or the right to vote.
It is enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted in 1948.
Three quarters of a century ago, our country passed labor laws that gave every worker the right to organize a union in their workplace to negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers.
When the largest percentage of private sector workers were in unions in the 1950′s, the economy grew and the gap between high and low income Americans dramatically dropped in what economist Paul Krugman calls the “Great Compression.”
Collective bargaining and growth of the labor movement were the principal engines that led to the creation of the American middle class — the growth of wages, the 40-hour work week, and the weekend.
The reason collective bargaining is so fundamental should be obvious. Markets are good at allocating many resources in an economy. But left to their own devices they do a terrible job distributing the fruits of production among the people who create products and services. (more…)
When a kid snatches an old lady’s purse, it’s punished as a crime. But when a corporation manipulates bankruptcy law to deny thousands of retired coal miners benefits they labored their entire lives to earn, it’s endorsed by federal court.
Late last month, a bankruptcy judge sanctioned a scheme in which corporations create shill companies with a dram of assets and a sea of retiree responsibilities. Such a debt-burdened outfit quickly goes bust. Bankruptcy court, the judge said, can’t consider the intent of a company’s creation, but can approve a plan to reorganize it by betraying decades of promises to retirees.
Corporations have reneged many times before on pledges for pensions and retiree medical benefits. This, however, is a new twist on that old scam. It’s alarming because what the bankruptcy court approved provides a template for companies angling to reduce costs by abandoning their commitments to retirees. It’s a swindle that must be stopped.
Of course, lots of people get hurt in bankruptcies, not just workers. All kinds of creditors – from the local accounting firm to the big copy paper provider – get stuck with cents on the dollar owed. But this case, the Patriot Coal Corp. case, is different. That’s because Patriot’s bankruptcy was deliberate. Peabody Energy kneecapped Patriot on purpose at the outset.
“There can be no Patriot Coal stock to dispute, or tonnage payments to negotiate, or companies to reorganize, unless there are men and women willing to bend their knees to excavate coal.”
“Many discuss the horrendous conditions of the coal mines when those individuals first began to work, and how hard it was to achieve the promises made pursuant to both the previous and the current CBAs (collective bargaining agreements). Some discuss how physically, mentally and emotionally grueling being a coal miner was, many of whom worked as coal miners for over 30 years – a sacrifice made with due consideration of the promised health care from cradle to grave. . .
“Many coal miners talk of six (6) and seven (7) day work-weeks, of over 12 hours a day. Some letters discuss various injuries sustained while working in coal mines, limbs of self and relatives lost, and the lives lost of relatives and friends. . .And, as counsel for the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America) so eloquently stated, many current and retired coal miners do not have cost spreading abilities, because, for many, cost spreading ‘means cutting your pills in half. Cost spreading abilities for retirees means making a choice today over medicine or food.’”
And then she said none of it mattered. She contended she was forbidden from considering that. She also insisted that under bankruptcy law she couldn’t take into account whether Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, deliberately established Patriot in such a way that it would fail so that it could receive sanction through bankruptcy to desert its retiree health care obligations. (more…)
By Dave Johnson
Fellow, Campaign for America's Future
The corporate/conservative effort to gut the country’s labor-law enforcement continues at full steam. Senate Republicans are blocking NLRB Board confirmations. Republican judges blocked the the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from operating until the Senate confirms Board members. Today House Republicans are moving on a bill to just shut the NLRB down.
People vs Concentrated Power
Unions mean higher wages, benefits and safer working conditions for working people. This means “labor” — i.e. you (unless you own a big company) — gets a share of the benefits of our economy. This is because unions partially (only partially) balance the power difference between individuals and giant corporations.
One person against great wealth and power rarely stands a chance. That is why We, the People formed our government of, by and for the People. We, the People acting together (collectively) can used to be able to fight back against the concentrated power of great wealth.
Similarly, when individual people come up against the concentrated power of the giant corporations alone, they are at their mercy. One person saying, “Please, Sir, can I have a raise?” doesn’t cut it. But dozens or hundreds or thousands of people acting together is collective power, which balances the equation to some degree. (Except when “trade” deals enable the giant companies to ship jobs our of the country, pitting low-wage, exploited workers against American workers, and say, “Shut up or we’ll move your job out of the country, too.”)
The right to form a union, bargain collectively and engage in legitimate union activities without fear of retaliation or intimidation is the law of the land, and Wall Street and the large corporations don’t like it one bit. Not one bit at all.
NLRB And The Law
Congress enacted the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in 1935. It’s the law.
Take a look at Section 1 of the NLRA. In summary, it states that it is the position the position of We the People, (a.k.a. government,) that lack of bargaining power by workers against corporations leads to Depressions (we call them recessions now) — the result of depressed purchasing power. And it leads to strikes, which disrupt commerce. Therefore, it is the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining.
Bargain collectively for a contract that sets wages, benefits, hours, and other working conditions
Discuss wages, working conditions or union organizing with co-workers or a union
Act with co-workers to improve working conditions by raising complaints with an employer or a government agency
Strike and picket their employer, depending on the purpose or means of the action
Choose not to join a union or engage in union activities
Organize coworkers to decertify a union
If employees choose a union as their bargaining representative, the union and employer must bargain in good faith in a genuine effort to reach a binding agreement setting out terms and conditions of employment. The union is required to fairly represent employees in bargaining and enforcing the agreement. (more…)
A number of the benefits common in workplaces today exist in part because they were first negotiated by a union bargaining a collective agreement, including fair wages, parental leave, caregiver leave and workplace safety standards.
When workers and employers negotiate fair contracts, they set standards that improve both union and non-union workplaces, and help all Ontario families keep up.
Republicans’ reaction to last week’s Monday Night Football debacle was record breaking given their decades of hating on union workers.
After replacement refs bestowed on the Seattle Seahawks a game clearly won by the Green Bay Packers, GOP standard bearers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the figurehead for GOP union-busting, called for the National Football League to restore its locked-out union refs.
Unbelievably, it’s actually the sound of Republicans giving union refs a little respect. A union worker is to Republicans what comedian Rodney Dangerfield was to his stage wife – that is, a guy who can’t get no respect. Republicans have tried to tackle union rights since they were formally granted in 1935. The GOP admires business owners, not the working men and women whose labor is essential for companies to exist. The GOP believes owners and CEOs are indispensable but working stiffs are easily replaced. That’s what the NFL did – locked out the working stiffs and replaced them. That didn’t work out so well. And the GOP big wigs, in calling for the union refs’ reinstatement, admitted it. Amazing.
Here’s how it went down. First, the billion-dollar NFL locked out its union refs to save less than $5 million a year. That’s a lockout, not a strike. That means the refs were willing to work under the terms of their old contract until they could reach a new deal. But the NFL threw a little hissy fit and refused.
Lockouts don’t seem to make much sense. Logically, an employer would despise disruption and prefer workers continuing production until there’s agreement on a new contract. But that’s when workers are seeking a larger portion of the value of what they produce — higher pay or benefits.
When employers want to slash pay and benefits, they lock out workers. Even massively profitable employers – like the NFL – do it in an attempt to take more for themselves and give less to workers.
“You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game.”
That disrespect led directly to the Packers-Seahawks fiasco. From the outset, the replacement refs fumbled and bumbled. Coaches complained that games were out of control. Fans mocked the numerous bad calls. (more…)
By Alison Omens
AFL-CIO Director of Media Outreach
The NFL referee lockout is a complete disaster—something that’s obvious to everyone except (supposedly) the people keeping the referees locked out. Much ink has been spent on decrying the replacement referees and how they’re ruining football (never mind how they’re putting players’ safety at risk). Even unlikely supporters, missing the obvious irony in their sudden support for union workers, are taking to the virtual streets.
@GovWalker: After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful. #Returntherealrefs
Paul Ryan: “You guys watch that Packer game…I mean give me a break! It is time to get the real refs”
Regular referees are reliable because they’re highly trained professionals—a necessity to be a union referee. They’re a high-profile example of thousands of other professions whose work we rely on every day to get the job done and who are trained by their union. The labor movement is the largest workforce trainer of adults outside the U.S. military. Need examples?
Remember Captain Sully and “Miracle on the Hudson?” He was a huge safety advocate through his union, serving as the Air Line Pilots (ALPA) representative during a National Transportation Safety Board investigation and as a local air safety chairman.
Last week’s ruling by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas striking down the Wisconsin law (Act 10) that eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights, “Shows as we have said from day one,” says Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt:
Scott Walker’s attempt to silence the union men and women of Wisconsin’s public sector was an immoral, unjust and illegal power grab. Now, a court has ruled that the essential provisions of Act 10, Scott Walker’s draconian attack on public worker’s right to collectively bargain, is unconstitutional.
Marty Bell, executive director of AFSCME Council 24 said that after the news was received, a crowd that had gathered for a solidarity rally in Madison for striking Chicago teachers cheered the news, “There was huge excitement there. Every public employee ought to be excited about this.”
We’ve now had a federal and state judge say this law was unconstitutional and that it violated not only the state constitution but the U.S. Constitution as well. The working men and women from across this state deserve to have their rights, which Scott Walker stole from them, restored and today’s ruling gave them hope. (more…)
By Gary Villani
USW Local 959 Member; Editor, The Local Express
We are now less than two months away from what amounts to the greatest “collective bargaining agreement” we’ll ever be able to vote up. It’s not enough to vote. We need to commit ourselves to getting the vote out! Let’s get everyone registered that we possibly can, and do our utmost to get them to their voting places on Election Day. Let’s use our union halls to register voters. Let’s get absentee ballots into the hands of anyone too ill to travel, everyone planning a November vacation and most important of all, let’s get absentee ballots mailed to the men and women we know and admire who wear the nation’s uniform. Be sure to remind them that Mitt Romney NEVER MENTIONED THEM ONCE in his acceptance speech at the GOP convention!
To submit a blog to Free Speech Zone, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep it to 250 words or fewer. You MUST include your full name, hometown, and state. You may attach a photograph of yourself. Please include a phone number. This WILL NOT be published. Posting any given blog is within the discretion of the USW. No blog using foul language (this is a family site), false information (we don’t want to get sued), or unnecessary personal attacks (again, we don’t want to get sued) will be used. Wait a reasonable period of time, then blog again! This is a Free Speech Zone.
Thirteen more Texas legislators, including 10 Republicans, have severed their ties with the extremist American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Earlier this year, another dozen Lone Star State lawmakers said goodbye to ALEC.
Matt Glazer, executive director of Progress Texas, the group that has helped expose ALEC’s influence in the state legislature, says:
These legislators have shown the courage of their convictions by standing up to a corporate bill factory and declaring their support for the people of Texas above all else.
Overall 70 state legislators have left ALEC since the group came under intense public scrutiny after its involvement in Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law that’s at the center of the Trayvon Martin killing.
Graduate Student, Department of Linguistics, UC Berkeley
In taking over the framing of just about every major issue, conservatives have hidden major truths. Democrats need to speak those truths from their own moral perspective. To show how, we have just published The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide for Thinking and Talking Democratic. Here is how the book applies to the Wisconsin Recall:
The Wisconsin recall vote should be put in a larger context. What happened in Wisconsin started well before Scott Walker became governor and will continue as long as progressives let it continue. The general issues transcend unions, teachers, pensions, deficits, and even wealthy conservatives and Citizens United.
Where progressives argued policy — the right to collective bargaining and the importance of public education — conservatives argued morality from their perspective, and many working people who shared their moral views voted with them and against their own interests. Why? Because morality is central to identity, and hence trumps policy.
Progressive morality fits a nurturant family: parents are equal, the values are empathy, responsibility for oneself and others, and cooperation. That is taught to children. Parents protect and empower their children, and listen to them. Authority comes through an ethic of excellence and living by what you say, rather than by enforcing rules.
Correspondingly in politics, democracy begins with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly both for oneself and others. The mechanism by which this is achieved is The Public, through which the government provides resources that make private life and private enterprise possible: roads, bridges and sewers, public education, a justice system, clean water and air, pure food, systems for information, energy and transportation, and protection both for and from the corporate world. No one makes it on his or her own. Private life and private enterprise are not possible without The Public. Freedom does not exist without The Public. (more…)
Portions of this website are paid for by the United Steelworkers Political Action Fund, with voluntary contributions from union members and their families, and is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.
USW Political Action Fund - Five Gateway Center - Pittsburgh, PA 15222