Union News: 2 Federal Initiatives Labor Leaders Should Follow
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Three steps forward, two steps back. That’s a fitting description of the North American labor movement right now.
We recently reported some positive news for the labor movement:
- President Biden is requiring labor advisors to supervise federal contracts.
- The NLRB is expanding penalties for companies that illegally fire unionizing workers.
- Congressional Democrats are fighting for the passage of the PRO Act, again.
But now, here are a couple of disappointing federal initiatives that trample on workers’ rights.
The Supreme Court Weakens Workers’ Right to Strike
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935, protects workers’ right to strike, but there are nuances. Employers take advantage of that nuance to undermine this basic right of their employees.
“Employers routinely obtain injunctions limiting where and how many strikers can picket; economic strikers can be permanently replaced; secondary targets often can’t be picketed; and so on,” explains Amanda Bradbury, editor of Labor Notes.
A recent Supreme Court ruling in Glacier Northwest v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 174 gave employers more power to chip away at the protected right to strike. The issue at hand was whether an employer could sue a union in state court for property damages incurred as a result of a strike.
The NLRA prohibits workers from deliberately destroying employer property during a strike and requires employers to take up grievances against striking workers with the National Labor Relations Board. In the recent ruling, the Supreme Court went against this precedent and ruled that Glacier Northwest can sue the union in state court for damages incurred during a 2017 strike, when workers left wet concrete in their trucks to walk off the job.
Such a ruling ultimately makes it more risky for workers to walk off the job in protest, even though they have a legally protected right to do so, because leaving mid-shift could make them financially liable for employer damages during a stoppage.
“In contemplating whether to go out on strike or not, that’s another risk factor that union members have to weigh,” says Sharon Block, a professor of practice at Harvard Law School and executive director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy.
“It’s creating a further responsibility for workers to mitigate the impact of the action they’re deciding to take. I think it will make the decision to go out on strike much harder.”
Senate Republicans Introduce Employee Rights Act of 2023
In what is being presented as a bill protecting workers’ rights and bringing balance to the relationship between workers and employers, Senate Republicans are actually seeking to limit workers rights by weakening unions and strengthening employers through the Employee Rights Act of 2023.
Introduced in April, the bill restricts worker and union power by:
- Requiring union elections be conducted by secret ballot and eliminating the use of signature cards. This could potentially draw out union elections and give employers more time to push their anti-union messaging.
- Limiting the amount of contact information provided on employee rolls to union organizers at the start of a union campaign. Employers have the advantage of access during a campaign, and this rule would further inhibit unions’ abilities to communicate with eligible employees voters.
- Empowering union members to dictate how union dues are spent. Lobbying is a key resource for unions when representing the interests of their members, and this bill seeks to strip away unions’ ability to use funds in those advocacy efforts.
- Establishing a new standard for defining employees and independent contractors, as well as redefining the joint employer standard, both of which would undoubtedly reduce the number of workers eligible for union representation.
It’s a bill that unions should watch closely as it is debated in Congress. Labor leaders and advocates would also do well to engage in public information campaigns about the reality of the legislation being anti-labor, though supporters are framing it as a pro-worker bill.
A tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® can help them share the facts with their members and shape the narrative around the true intention of federal initiatives like these.
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