Labor law

  • February 11, 2013

    Treatment of workers at HealthBridge nursing homes in Connecticut and gaps in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) show how stacked some labor law can be against workers. Even when workers win a string of victories in court, employers can stall in placing workers back on the job. For example, six-hundred workers who make no more than $32,000 have been out of work since June, despite a court order directing HealthBridge to put them back to work. Meanwhile, 40 percent of American workers aren’t covered by FMLA. And too often employees covered by the law are punished by their employers for attempting to take leave. Law professor Anne Lofaso suggests some simple ways to improve labor laws in her new ACS issue brief, aptly titled “We Are in this Together.

    -- ESA

  • January 11, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Ellen Dannin. She is the author of  Taking Back the Workers’ Law - How to Fight the Assault on Labor Rights (Cornell University Press) and the Fannie Weiss Distinguished Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

    Through the decades, many proposals have been made to replace, repeal, or amend the National Labor Relations Act. Most have foundered for good reason. Amending the NLRA requires applying the precautionary principle – first, do no harm. 

    In the case of the NLRA, proposed amendments should be justified by showing that a change will promote the NLRA’s purposes and policies. The ultimate policy is to restore equality of bargaining power between employers and employees by “encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”  The basic goal was to balance the power corporation and partnership law gave employers to become collective with a law that gave employees the right to take collective action to improve working conditions.

    The standard to measure the value of proposals to change the NLRA is not whether the change would increase the number of union members – although that certainly matters. It is whether the change would increase employee bargaining power. The purpose of increasing employee bargaining power was to improve the quality of work, and, ultimately, promote a fairer, more prosperous, more democratic society.

    Congress was impelled to pass the NLRA because the increase in power employers had, as a result of corporation and partnership laws, so skewed power toward employers that wages and working conditions had spiraled down and led to economic collapse.

    We have seen similar dynamics during the Great Recession with attacks on employee working conditions, and especially attacks on public sector employee wages and benefits – as well as through privatization. The ferocity of those attacks in recent years and the low percentage of union members raise concerns that the spiraling down of working conditions will lead to economic disaster. Desperate times seem to call for desperate measures.

    However, these days, most people have little to no first-hand knowledge of how the National Labor Relations Board operates or of the purpose of the law. Here, then, is a brief NLRA / NLRB primer.

  • December 14, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) despite a massive outcry of protestors at the state capitol in Lansing signed a so-called “right-to-work” bill into law. And just like in neighboring Indiana, right to work passed despite a massive outcry, and Michigan joined 23 other states that have passed such legislation in a seeming race to the bottom for the benefit of corporations that have made massive political donations to the Republican proponents of these bills.

    So what is “right to work,” and why are so many Republican officials making it a legislative priority? Put simply, right-to-work legislation prohibits agreements that require employees of a firm to maintain union membership as a condition of employment, allowing workers who choose to do so the right to “work through a strike.” The problem with this is that federal law requires unions to bargain for a contract that benefits all workers, regardless of whether they become members of the union. And, unions are founded on the premise of collective action, when individuals can take advantage of the benefits that unions win in contracts without having to pay their fair share in dues; it creates a massive free-rider problem that undermines the purposes, and ultimately the benefits that a union provides. For that reason, the AFL-CIO calls this kind of legislation a “right to work for less [pay/benefits]” law.

  • September 21, 2012
    Guest Post

    By J. Chris Sanders, General Counsel, United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 227

    Michigan voters will have the opportunity to defeat so-called “right-to-work”in November, and ensure that Michigan workers will have constitutional rights on the job far above current federal law.

    What is "right-to-work"? In short, big trouble for working people, a law that, as Martin Luther King said, guarantees neither rights nor work.

    A little background: Right-to-work is a provision in the National Labor Relations Act. The trouble comes from the NLRA's weak constitutional underpinning. The NLRA is founded upon the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, affording the federal government the power to enact statutes and take other actions to regulate commerce. Unlike many countries, U.S. labor rights to organize and bargain collectively are not deemed fundamental. In other countries, these rights are founded upon those of freedom of speech, association, and assembly, but not in the U.S.  Here, it's just about commerce, meaning business.

    Right-to-work is all about business. The federal NLRA permits states to enact laws that keep unions weak and wages low. It requires labor unions, which are membership organizations, to bargain for and represent employees who choose not to be members for free, thereby weakening those unions and driving down wages.

  • July 2, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Anne Marie Lofaso, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development and a law professor at West Virginia University College of Law. An extended version of this piece is posted at the Employment Policy Research Network’s blog.

    On June 21, the Supreme Court decided Knox v. SEIU Local 1000, holding that the First Amendment does not permit public-sector unions in non-right-to-work states to require objecting nonmembers, absent express authorization (opt-in), to pay a special fee for the purpose of financing the union’s political and ideological activities. Until Knox, the Supreme Court had never questioned the constitutionality of the opt-out method. So long as unions did not compel union membership and periodically permitted workers to opt-out of non-chargeable expenses, any impingement on the public-sector workers’ (the objectors’) free speech had always been found to be constitutional.

    The majority opinion (Justices Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts) starts by questioning the constitutionality of requiring non-members to pay even chargeable expenses. Indeed, the majority opinion questions the very existence of the non-“right to work” (RTW) state, which of course is grounded in the idea that workers should pay for representation even though they might not have voted for union representation, just as all of us still had to pay taxes to help finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq even though some of us (indeed, a majority of us) didn’t vote for President George W. Bush and even though we might have been ideologically opposed to President Bush’s political agenda. We do that because we are party to what is thought to be a social contract with a democratic government in which we receive the benefits and bear the burdens of majority rule. Notwithstanding these basic principles, the majority opinion dismisses the free-rider justification for compelling nonmembers to pay their fair share of representation services as “something of an anomaly.”

    The majority opinion proceeds to characterize the opt-out pathway as “a remarkable boon for unions” and therefore unconstitutional. This is because, in the court’s view, “[c]ourts ‘do not presume acquiescence in the loss of fundamental rights.’” The Supreme Court, however, has presumed such acquiescence. For example, the Roberts’ Court presumed workers’ acquiescence in a union-employer agreement to waive employees’ right to a jury trial in a Title VII case. 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett (2009); see also Board of Regents of the Univ. of Wisconsin Sys. v. Southworth (2000) (holding that the“First Amendment permits a public university to charge its students an activity fee used to fund a program to facilitate extracurricular student speech if the program is viewpoint neutral”).The Court moved from that fallacious presupposition to its conclusion — that the opt-out pathway is unconstitutional because dissenting workers should not bear the burden of opting out of payments to support views that are politically distasteful to them. This is so even if the political activity actually benefits the bargaining-unit workers by, for example, lobbying for pro-worker legislation.