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A bold solution exists to the current infringement on worker rights by radical right-wing governors and conservative state legislatures. A National Public Employee Rights Act would take the decision of whether to allow public employees to collectively bargain out of the hands of State Governments and instantly grant freedom to every public servant in America. This Type of Federal Law would permanently change the way that state and local governments interact with their employees and would guarantee the rights of all public sector workers to collectively bargain.

By codifying the basic right to negotiate with one's employer in the public sector, millions of employees would be guaranteed their constitutional right to freely associate with a union. While the AFL-CIO and Several Unions are now recognizing the advantages of making a civil rights/constitutional argument for collective bargaining, there is still some work to be done on the messaging front; the ACLU says it best when framing the issue:

Unions facilitate and enhance the ability of their members to exercise core civil liberties, such as the First Amendment rights of association, speech, and petition.

Association: The First Amendment right of association protects the right of individuals to come together over issues of mutual interest. A union fundamentally is an association of individual workers seeking to address common workplace issues. When workers form a union, they are exercising a basic civil right. But because of anti-trust laws, workers who choose to exercise this right face potential legal liability, absent statutory protections. The statutory right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining is necessary to ensure that workers can continue to exercise their civil right to associate with other workers on issues of mutual concern.

Speech: The right to communicate with co-workers about workplace concerns comes from the statutory right to join a union and bargain collectively. Absent a statutory right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining, workers could lose the right to talk about the key issues that affect their daily lives, notwithstanding the importance of the issues to the workers, or the benefit to society from learning about those issues. The First Amendment does not protect private sector employees from efforts by their employers to censor speech, and public employees have only very limited protections when discussing workplace issues. The statutory right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining is therefore necessary to protect basic free speech values.

In addition, unions provide a vehicle for their members to participate meaningfully in the public debates that are critical to a democratic society. By combining their voices with other union members, workers can get heard.

Petition: Unions exist to defend the rights of their members, including by lobbying the government to defend the interests of the overall membership and by going to court to protect the rights of individual members. These are classic examples of the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition the government, but also activities that individual workers would likely lack the resources to undertake on their own. By combining resources with other union members, workers have the opportunity to exercise the critical right of petition through their unions.

A national law that guarantees the rights of ALL public employees to collectively bargain with their employer (even if your governor is a right wing nut-job or you live in GOP stronghold like Texas) would solve many of the problems that we are having in states like Ohio and Wisconsin. Governor Walker, his fellow governors, and forthcoming predecessors would be forced to negotiate with their employees in good faith and Public Employees would not live in fear of losing their rights every few years when hostile anti-worker politicians are elected. The newly granted right to organize for millions will set off a firestorm of organizing that will effectively change the plight of American workers everywhere.

Unfortunately, Unions have yet to win the passage of any significant pro-union legislation since the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935. Not including Congress's most recent failure to pass the Employee Free Choice act under President Obama, four major attempts at labor law reform have failed to make their way through Congress. The United States Senate presents a monumental hurdle where the threshold for cloture, along with the challenge of uniting the corporately influenced democratic party appears insurmountable. To summarize:

Employee Free Choice Act, 2007 (failed)

Workplace Fairness Act (Striker Replacement Bill), 1993 (failed)

Labor Law Reform Act, 1977–1978 (failed)

Repeal of Section 14(b) of Taft-Hartley Act, 1965–1966 (failed)


During the four out of five attempts, a "union-friendly" President occupied the White House. Sadly, Presidents Johnson, Carter, Clinton and now Obama have refused to expend the necessary political capital for congressional passage and all of them appeared lackluster in their support. President Obama at times seems terrified of the word "union" and one cannot see a situation where he would actively campaign for a change in the status quo. By not lifting a finger for EFCA, and  refusing to use the 'bully pulpit' to begin a serious national dialogue, President Obama has negligently passed on a incredible opportunity to become the first president to pass labor law reform.  

A National Public Employee Rights Act may be a pipe-dream. Without a doubt, republicans will continue to unite against such efforts and corporately influenced democrats like Blanche Lincoln (the former senator from Arkansas) and Ben Nelson will continue to betray working families. Yet we owe it to the millions of public and private sector workers throughout the country to pass meaningful reform. One should not envision a scenario where this happens overnight. But, this is the perfect time to begin organizing for a more permanent solution to the tyrannical rule of anti-worker politicians.

Originally posted to dmarlow1733 on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 01:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by A Perfect Conversation.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Republished to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    glitterscale

    A Perfect Conversation.

    We can't win anything if we're constantly playing defense. We have to go on offense. Even if the end result is doomed to legislative failure, that doesn't mean it failed in the public sphere. And if we get the public behind us, that gives us more votes to pressure congress with.

    There can be no left-of-center if the left is in the center.
    Have you seen a pest, critter, or bug? You need KosBusters!

    by Gabriel D on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 02:15:58 PM PDT

  •  Change the name to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Allen, jan4insight, Gabriel D

    National Employee Rights Act.

    Make it for ALL workers.

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 02:24:34 PM PDT

  •  Rand Paul wants to "Walker" every American worker. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dmarlow1733

    He is a chief sponsor of the "National Right to Work Act"

    ‘Right to work’ ... or freeload?
    http://www.timesrecord.com/...

  •  The problem with that...... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1918
    While the AFL-CIO and Several Unions are now recognizing the advantages of making a civil rights/constitutional argument for collective bargaining

    There is no constitutional right to collective bargaining.  The SCOTUS has so held.
  •  I think I know the answer for why no major (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dmarlow1733

    legislation that is labor-friendly has been passed for years. In the FDR years, those bitter lefty, commie, pinko socialists, progressives and the unemployed were ready to riot and kept FDR very very afraid. They were way louder than any right wing movement. And FDR had to placate them to save capitalism. Take it from Howard Zinn :

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    More & more Dems are not at all afraid of the base and they take us for granted.  And in the post-2008 meltdown, the idiot teabaggers hijacked the populist (however phony it is) mantle and they were the ones shouting louder. It was bizarro to see Obama spouting tea party rhetoric the day after the royal shellacking - "guvmint overreach" etc. And he dared to "make it up with business" - not sure if he was willfully or blissfully ignorant of the anger of the peasants and  the cause for the shellacking.

    NYT reader comment (via Susan Ohanian) : Arne Duncan great example of peter Principle. Failed in Chicago; then promoted so he could repeat failure on national scale.

    by Funkygal on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 08:03:03 PM PDT

    •  I think it is high time the unions put Obama and (0+ / 0-)

      the Dems on notice : "perform or else...". I don't think the Dems are Too Big to Fail. We need to end the bailout of Dems. If they crash & burn,  then we will get an opening for a labor party. Progressive dems can have a place in the new party.

      NYT reader comment (via Susan Ohanian) : Arne Duncan great example of peter Principle. Failed in Chicago; then promoted so he could repeat failure on national scale.

      by Funkygal on Fri Apr 08, 2011 at 08:15:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  labor law (0+ / 0-)

    I like your piece because I like big picture proposals like yours, but think about going further to expand the rights of employees not in a union or part of collective bargaining.

    As I understand labor law right now hiring constantly takes place under employment-at-will where the employee has no rights at all and can be fired without cause at the personal whim of any employer of any size; only subject to federal discrimination law that applies to specific groups.

    An employer can hire someone without any written contract or known performance standards. If a new labor law required employers to offer a written contract with some minimum conditions established by statute, wouldn't things get better?

    I would recommend taking a look at the overtime regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act if you want to see further evidence of corporate control.

    •  expansion of ALL worker are rights needed (0+ / 0-)

      I completely agree with your comments on the need for other types of comprehensive reform (besides just collective bargaining)

      OSHA has been gutted in recent years by the GOP. The minimum wage needs raised. A law that chips away at the whole 'employee at will' thing would also be nice.

      However, a one sided contract by management that is already part of laws would probably be redundant.

      Any 'contract' that the employer writes is nothing more than a glorified policy manual. Only when the employees have the right to negotiate over working conditions, wages and benefits, do they really have a voice on their job.

      To summarize; Yes, i am in favor of many types of reform, including improving laws like the Fair Standards Act, Minimum wage laws, wage and hour laws etc. But collective bargaining is the best way to improve workers lives by allowing them to directly participate in the decisions that affect them at work

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