The chances of independent candidate Ralph Nader winning
the presidency are as remote as ever in this, his fourth try. But he has
important things to say about vital matters that mainstream contenders
Democrat Barack Obama professes to be - and undoubtedly
is - a strong supporter of organized labor. Like most other Democratic office
seekers, he's endorsed the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which is designed
to reverse the steady decline in labor's fortunes. But neither Obama nor any of
labor's other Democratic allies has called for the step beyond enactment of the
Free Choice Act that is essential if labor is to grow and prosper. Ralph Nader
demands it: "Repeal Taft-Hartley!"
That's the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 -- aka in labor
circles as "the slave-labor bill" - which was passed by Congress over
the veto of President Harry Truman in response to the great labor militancy
that followed World War II. Nader says its passage was "one of the great
blows to American democracy." He calls it an employer-written law that has
"fundamentally infringed on workers' human rights" -- most
importantly, their right to unionize.
Taft-Hartley drastically amended the National Labor
Relations Act, which was enacted during the Great Depression to encourage unionization.
Taft-Hartley reversed the act's intent by authorizing employers to engage in
what Nader notes as "an array of anti-union activities."
Most significantly, it allows employers to intervene in
union organizing campaigns. Rather than remaining neutral as before, employers
can demand that workers vote on whether to unionize. That enables employers to
wage anti-union campaigns that include requiring workers to listen to their
arguments against unionization during working hours, often at mandatory meetings.
Taft-Hartley seriously limits workers' ability to act in
solidarity with other workers by prohibiting union members from waging sympathy
strike-- secondary boycotts -- in support of striking members of other unions.
Another key provision outlaws the closed shop, which
required workers seeking jobs with unionized employers to join the union
representing their workers before being hired. The law does allow the union
shop, which requires workers to join the union only after being hired, but
allows statesto enact so-called right-to-work laws that outlaw the union shop.
Twenty-two states have such laws, greatly weakening
unions by allowing workers to reap the benefits that unions get in negotiating
contracts with unionized employers, but without having to help pay the unions'
costs by joining and paying dues.
Taft-Hartley denies union rights to workers designated as
"supervisors" -- an "ever-expanding" designation, as Nader
says, that includes steadily increasing numbers of workers. What's more, employers
can fire supervisors who nevertheless try to unionize.
Employers can also use a wide assortment of legal devices
to delay for months, sometimes for years, negotiating contracts with unions
that win representation elections. They also have the right to call for
elections to try to decertify unions that have won such elections.
Unions calling strikes with potentially great national
impact face the prospect of the federal government moving in to require an
80-day cooling off period while mediators try to bring about a settlement.
There's more, none of which is designed to further
unionization, but rather to hinder it. The Taft-Hartley Act, notes Nader,
"sent a message to employers: It was OK to bust unions and deny workers
their rights to collectively bargain."
New laws such as the Employee Free Choice Act that
pro-union reformers have proposed are not enough to nullify the message. Only
outright repeal of Taft-Hartley will do that.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister