2004-08-27 / Columnists

The Progressive

Labor Day
By John Paul Culotta



This Labor Day when you are shopping at a mall or sitting in your backyard having a barbeque with family and friends or having a day at the beach or reading a book or working, take a few minutes to reflect on the status of workers in this great nation. For about three decades the real wages of workers has decreased. Increasingly, workers’ lives are considerably insecure. The need to be flexible to please our employers and hold on to our precarious jobs is having an effect on our personal and family lives. Globalization has made us fearful and docile.

In order to combat the economic forces that endanger the lives of working men and women, it will be necessary to return to basics. Americans will be forced to study the effects of industrialization, technology, globalization, and economic forces are having on the American work force. Our parents and grandparents knew the value of labor unions. Many people died in order for unions to be established and flourish. For the past few decades, unions have lost considerable amount of power and influence. The effect of the dismissal of air traffic controllers during the administration of Ronald Reagan the Great Communicator, set the tone of the nation. This has been detrimental to our middle class way of life and to our nation. Commentator Pat Buchanan noted that at all union meetings he attended it was customary for the union members to pledge allegiance to the flag. This never happened at corporate meetings he attended. It is note- worthy that the actions of many large corporations show no allegiance to this nation and are too willing to put their assets in other nations. A documentary movie called “The Corporation”makes the argument that corporations behave in a manner that would allow psychologists to categorize it as a sociopath if it were an individual.

Many of our most cherished social, economic, and political ideals were accomplished when the union movement was strong. Social security, additional overtime payment after working a 40-hour week, Medicare, health and safety regulations, workers compensation, and unemployment insurance were all goals of our union movement. Universal free public education was a demand of our early union movement. The night before he was murdered, Martin Luther King spoke to striking sanitation workers in Memphis. He was a strong supporter of unions. In South Africa, unions were in the forefront in opposition to apartheid. Although many white union members in this country were opposed to the civil rights movement, many unions were instrumental in getting the legislation through congress. Today, many civil service unions are fighting the corruption of using government coffers to enrich the politically connected.

The Bush/Cheney administration is extremely anti-union. The AFL-CIO is committed to replacing the administration in November. Revised changes to overtime rules proposed by the Bush/Cheney administration would fail to protect six million workers as regarding overtime compensation according to the Economic Policy Institute. President Bush had, as part of the homeland security legislation, put up obstacles to Federal workers joining unions. There has been an effort to weaken health and safety regulations that protect workers.

The Employee Free Choice Act sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller, would allow employees to choose whether to form unions when a majority at the workplace signed authorization cards. It would also provide mediation and arbitration for first-contract disputes and establish penalties for violations of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first contract negotiations. This is a priority for the Democrats and anathema for the GOP.

According to Kate Bronfrenbrenner, professor at Cornell University, if a worker is fired during an organizing drive it can take three years for the National Labor Relations Board and a federal appeal court to handle the case. It is legal for an employer to call mandatory meetings on company time during organizing campaigns to present anti-union arguments. The union must attract the employee on his/her free time. Seventy-eight percent of the private sector use supervisors to urge employees to vote against unions in an organizing campaign. If the employer is holding an anti-union meeting during an organizing campaign, it is usually legal for them to discipline or terminate an employee for asking a question about employment practices. It is essential to remember that democratic practices often end at the factory gate or office door. We need the Employee Free Choice Act to become law in order for our society to be fair.

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