Labor - And A Whole Lot More

The Disgraceful Treatment of U.S. Workers
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Face it: the United States has an exceptionally poor record in labor matters - a truly rotten record that is steadily growing even worse, and setting a terrible example for other countries to follow.

A new report from the International Trade Union Confederation, which represents workers in more than 150 countries and territories across the globe, makes that painfully clear. As the report notes, many U.S. workers do not even have the basic right to form unions - domestic workers, for instance, independent contractors, supervisors, most farmworkers and about 40 percent of all public employees.

Government workers who are allowed to unionize nevertheless are prohibited from striking and in many cases have only "severely restricted" bargaining rights. And workers in private employment who have union rights face heavy and often illegal anti-union pressures from employers.

More than 80 percent of employers faced with union organizing drives seek help from what the Trade Union Confederation cites as a huge, $4 billion union-busting industry. Employers and the union-busters rely on such tactics as requiring workers to attend "captive audience meetings" where they're fed anti-union propaganda.

Employers sometimes warn workers that unionization may force them to close their businesses, commonly order supervisors to spy on union organizers and threaten pro-union workers with firing or other disciplinary actions.

Even those relatively few employers who recognize a union as their employees' representative often refuse to bargain with the union and discipline employees who complain about it.

The penalties for such employer violations of the National Labor Relations Act are slight, if imposed. Workers, at any rate, fear complaining because it usually takes the government a very long time to act, and complaining workers meanwhile risk being fired or otherwise disciplined.

The United States, in short, is in serious violation of international labor standards.

Guy Rider, the Trade Union Confederation's secretary general, rightly blames the Bush Administration for much of the problem. Rider says that, rather than following U.S. law and protecting the rights of working people and helping them gain decent pay and conditions, the administration "has been intent on denying the freedom to join a union and bargain collectively to millions of American workers."

At the same time as employers have been stepping up their illegal anti-union efforts, the administration has been cutting back on enforcement of the labor laws the employers have been violating.

 The report says, too, that child labor and forced labor by adults and children alike are not things of the past. They're still serious problems, particularly among immigrant Latino farmworkers. Many of the immigrants, children and adults alike, "are forced to work long hours, in harsh, dangerous conditions."

The report also says there's still " rampant pay discrimination based on sex," with women in general earning only 80 percent of what men earn. The gap for women of color is even larger.

The Trade Union Confederation does cite some efforts that have been made to guarantee that U.S. workers will finally have an unfettered right to unionization --primarily the efforts to win passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The proposed law calls for much stiffer fines for employer violations. Among several other provisions aimed at cracking down hard on offenders, it mandates that employers who stall in union contract negotiations will have the terms dictated by an arbitrator.

The key provision of the law would automatically grant union recognition on the showing of union membership cards by a majority of an employer's workers, rather than holding an election, as is now done in most cases. The law was like that originally, with no lengthy election campaigns and thus much less opportunity for employers to intimidate workers.

The Free Choice Act came close to passage last year. It cleared the House easily, but failed to get the 60-vote majority needed to overcome a filibuster by Republican opponents in the Senate,

It's certain that until the proposed act or something like it is passed and fully enforced, America's treatment of workers will remain an international disgrace.

Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister