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
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