Labor Day. Every Day.

There are many, many issues that affect working families and individuals were addressed, but on Labor Day, let’s talk about labor, collective bargaining and the right to organize.

An organized workforce and the ability to engage in collective bargaining and the ability to work out problems is beneficial for all negotiating parties. It also benefits and bolsters the local and regional economy.

Yet, we’ve had decades of infringement on workers’ speech and curtailed bargaining power. To what end? The International Monetary Fund suggests reviving unions as a way for democracies to grow their economies and boost productivity. The United States, as a result of one of the lowest unionization rates in the world, and we lead rich nations in low-wage jobs where more than 20 percent of jobs pay less than two-thirds of the median wage.

And the U.S. ranks in the bottom third of countries in terms of its work-life balance. Americans work about 1,790 hours per year on average, but workers in most wealthier nations work less than 1,600

This excellent article by Shaun Richman that was published in In These Times reminds us that Robert Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, the union of New York City Transit Authority employees, saw more jail time than any of the top bank executives responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. His crime was leading a largely Black and Latino union membership in a 60-hour strike, shutting down the city’s subway and bus system in violation of a judge’s injunction and New York’s 1967 Taylor Law, which bans public-sector strikes.

The court also levied on the union a $2.5 million fine and suspended its ability to collect dues for a year. Individual strikers were fined two days’ pay for each day on strike.

Yet, as this article notes, corporations, by contrast, engage in so-called secondary boycotts all the time. “Cable providers, for example, black out television channels to protest a network’s rate increase, instructing viewers to call the network CEO to complain. Why are secondary boycotts legal when used by media companies for profit, but illegal when exercised in solidarity by workers?”

It’s also important to remember that the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and the many local laws it spawned are not the source of workers’ rights to organize, but that the NLRA regulates those Constitutional rights of free speech, equal protection, and involuntary servitude, similarly to how election laws regulate the right to vote.

And here’s the key point:

“[J]ust as restrictive voter ID laws can violate citizens’ voting rights, bad labor laws can trample workers’ rights. While “corporate persons” have established free speech rights, for example, a union—a collection of actual persons—has no similarly recognized protections. This disparity would in turn seem to violate the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.”

The left must stop playing defense and embark on a sustained offense. Thanks to organizations like the New Jersey Working Families Alliance and others that fight every day for workers rights. Public officials need to take heed and join in solidarity to legislatively empower the advocacy groups working hard to protect and fortify our workforce.

Labor Day, every day.

Further Your Information:

Jelle Visser, Susan Hayter & Rosina Gammarano (2015), “Trends in collective bargaining coverage: stability, erosion or decline?” International Labour Organization

OECD Better Life Index: Work-Life Balance

Steven Greenhouse and Janon Fisher, “Union Leader, Out of Jail, Vows to Fight No-Strike Law,” New York Times, April 29, 2006

Comments (2)

  1. Joe

    There is an all out war against unions in this country. The overall unionization rate is about 10.6% and seems to be falling every day. Unionization rates in other countries: Norway 51%, Sweden 67%, Germany 18% (plus Works Councils), Iceland 86%, Finland 75%. And these countries have universal health care, much cheaper drugs, paid sick leave, 6 weeks off in summer, etc. Strangely, France’s unionization rate is 8% but the French take to the streets in an instant and in huge numbers to protest unfair treatment and not to mention French laws are favorable to unions.

  2. Rosi Efthim

    On what Joe writes –
    This is the kind of thing I think about when I see the brand of superpatriotism rise that is American exceptionalism. There’s nothing wrong with loving and feeling loyalty and great feeling for one’s country – and we have a wonderful place to call home.

    But for me, American exceptionalism shuts down any attempt to be a better country – because it fails to take a good hard look at what other countries are achieving that we can learn from. And in the area of how we treat workers, we can do so much better.


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