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How is it that so few American workers have a union? The inadequacies of U.S. labor law extinguish or delay organizing campaigns and do little to discourage the firing, harassment and discrimination against workers for exercising their legal rights to form a union and collectively bargain.
Many employers find the weak penalties for breaking the law a bargain if firing a pro-union employee scares others from supporting the union. If workers do successfully form a union despite such tactics, the employer is allowed to repeatedly appeal the results, which can take years.
Misclassification of employees as independent contractors costs us all: federal and state governments, businesses, workers, and taxpayers. Our laws grant workers vital workplace benefits and protections, as long as the worker is a direct employee of the employer. Consequently, workers who are independent contractors in name only are cheated out of important benefits and legal protections.
Furthermore, government and academic studies estimate that the federal government loses at least $3-4 billon annually due to misclassification, and billions more due to off-the-books cash payments. State studies indicate that that figure could be much higher. At a time when the federal and state governments are facing such difficult budget choices and making cuts to programs that Americans depend upon, there is no excuse for allowing so many businesses to cheat the system.
The failure of U.S. labor law to protect America’s workers from pervasive unionbusting is well-documented. Yet little attention has been paid to the practice of foreign companies operating in cooperation with their employees in their home countries, where labor laws are stronger, while failing to respect the rights of their workers in the United States. The same company, under two different systems of law, results in two very different situations for workers.
In a new report, the American Rights at Work Education Fund exposes a systematic campaign to prevent employees from forming a union by T-Mobile USA and its parent company, German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom (DT). The report, "Lowering the Bar or Setting the Standard? Deutsche Telekom’s U.S. Labor Practices," presents overwhelming evidence that DT is guilty of operating by a double standard: The company respects workers’ rights in Germany, where it cooperates closely with unions, but mistreats workers in the United States and interferes with their right to organize.
When unscrupulous employers fail to uphold labor standards for certain groups of workers, like undocumented immigrants, all U.S. workers suffer the consequences. By driving down labor standards to the lowest common denominator, it becomes harder to enforce laws and standards even for native-born workers.
In this report we focus on the balance between the DOL's need to protect workers' rights and ICE's mandate to enforce immigration laws. We examine how ICE's failure to fully participate in this balancing act has contributed to the creation of perverse incentives against complying with fair wage and hour laws, OSHA requirements, and labor laws that protect collective bargaining rights.
This report includes several case studies that illuminate the multiple ways ICE and the DOL could partner with each other and with other agencies to raise the floor on core labor standards.
New findings from Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner provide a comprehensive, independent analysis of employer behavior in union representation elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Her research identifies the range and incidence of legal and illegal coercive tactics used by employers NLRB elections and the ineffectiveness of current labor law to protect and enforce workers’ rights during the process.
Dr. Bronfenbrenner’s report also compares employer
behavior in this study’s period to previous studies that she and her
research teams have conducted over the last 20 years.
» Fact Sheet
» Full Report (PDF: 366kb)
» Read the related press release
The right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. American labor law has not kept pace with the changing nature and face of the modern workplace and increasingly excludes more and more workers from this legal protection. Increasing numbers of employees have a supervisory aspect or capacity of their work. More and more immigrants join the workforce, especially in the agricultural sector, and more people have been classified as independent contractors, whether by choice or by an employer’s decision. As these changes take place, American labor law denies these workers their legally-protected right to form unions and collectively bargain by either defining workers as not employees or by expressly excluding them.
This report provides an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the number and type of workers without collective bargaining rights, as well as recent trends in the workforce and legal rulings that have impacted that number. There are 140.5 million people in the civilian workforce. Our research found that of these employees, 33.5 million, or 23.8%, have no rights under the NLRA or any other labor law: no legally-protected right to join or form a union, no legally-protected right to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions of work, and therefore, effectively no freedom of association in the workplace.
Employers have little reason to abide by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), as the financial disincentives of violating the law are minimal. From firing, demoting, or retaliating against workers for their support of a union to ignoring their duty to negotiate a contract, many employers blatantly violate the NLRA. Other major federal employment laws impose fines or damages on employers who break the law. Yet the NLRA’s nominal deterrents do little to prevent employer lawlessness compared to the costs of violating minimum wage, discrimination, and health and safety protections.
If passed, the Employee Free Choice Act will address the insufficient law by increasing penalties on those who break the law and giving workers the just compensation they deserve.
It is well-established that employers illegally fire workers for their support of a union in the United States. But what people may not realize is that for every worker fired, 395 coworkers receive the message: get involved with the union and you’ll get a pink slip.
Looking at how many workers, on average, in a workplace observe someone being fired for supporting a union reveals the real impact. The firing goes far beyond a lost job, vanished income, and workplace injustice for the individual worker—it can chill support for a union by instilling fear among coworkers that they too could lose their livelihood and economic well-being.
Every day men and women join unions in this country to improve their jobs and economic livelihood. Unfortunately, clever employers often interfere with their workers’ support for a union. As a result, anti-union employers fire pro-union workers in 34% of organizing campaigns.*
Adding insult to injury, fired workers discover incredible obstacles in attempts to reclaim their jobs due to a weak labor law system that favors employers. The workers who end up with an official ruling in their favor from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) represent only the tip of the iceberg of the thousands of workers fired each year for supporting a union. Rather than navigate a long and difficult process, too many fired workers end their pursuit of justice, however minimal, from the NLRB.
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections are meant to provide workers with the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to join a union. Yet research confirms that too many employers are taking advantage of U.S. labor laws intended to protect workers’ rights to form unions. Aggressive misconduct from management widely prevents workers from exercising their choice. These findings indicate a serious need for reform of the NLRB-supervised union election process which typically skews in the favor of employers.
When is a FedEx worker not a FedEx employee? When it benefits the FedEx Corporation. In a new report, Fed Up with FedEx: How FedEx Ground Tramples Workers' Rights at Civil Rights, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and American Rights at Work document the widespread use of employee misclassification at FedEx Ground, which denies workers’ fundamental civil rights and workplace protections.
Bill Belichick knows the cost of breaking the rules. The coach of the New England Patriots was forced to cough up $500,000--about 12% of his annual salary--for spying on his opponents during the NFL's season opener. The league's punishment didn't stop there - the Patriots also had to pay a quarter-million dollar fine and give up at least one draft pick. Discipline was swift and severe. All in all, the punishment was the NFL's biggest ever, and it surely sent a message to every team in the league. The incident stands in stark contrast to another reported last week by the Las Vegas Sun involving Wal-Mart, the world's biggest employer.
Opponents of the Employee Free Choice Act have a one-note strategy to derail reform of our broken labor law system. The anti-union, right-wing, business lobby simply spins the same broken record of lies, over and over again. Track 1 is the bogus assertion: "The bill does away with secret ballot elections, and, elections without secret ballots are undemocratic." Track 2 is the counterfeit claim: "Elections for union representation are just like elections for Congress."
Under the current labor law system, employers often use a combination of legal and illegal methods to silence employees who attempt to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions. When faced with organizing drives, 25 percent of employers fire at least one pro-union worker; 51 percent threaten to close a worksite if the union prevails; and, 91 percent force employees to attend one-on-one anti-union meetings with their supervisors. The solution: Labor law reform that gives workers a free choice and a fair chance to form a union.
Under current law, anti-union employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, withholding relevant information, and putting forth bogus proposals. Even though these tactics are illegal, there are no effective deterrents to prevent “surface bargaining.”
The Employee Free Choice Act would help ensure that workers and employers reach a first contract in a responsible period of time.
Management routinely coerces employees not to choose union representation. Freedom of association—the right of employees to join a union and bargain collectively—is theoretically guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the U.S. Constitution, and several international human rights agreements. However, as Human Rights Watch concluded in a 2000 report on U.S. compliance with international human rights standards, employees’ freedom of association in the United States is routinely violated through employer coercion.1
More effective remedies against employer coercion—like injunctive relief and monetary penalties—in the Employee Free Choice Act will help restore workers' freedom to form unions.
Even though the National Labor Relations Act says employees have the right to form a union and bargain collectively, in total, 32 million American workers—one quarter of the workforce—are without any legal protection to form unions and collectively bargain.
It’s well recognized that the ability to have a say in one’s working conditions is fundamental. That’s why the right to form a union and engage in collective bargaining is considered a human right and a measure of democracy in the industrialized world. So how is it that so few American workers have a collective voice about their working conditions? Protection from being fired without just cause? Or a union contract guaranteeing a level of wages and benefits? Blame rests with the U.S. labor law system for failing to adequately protect workers’ rights to collective bargaining.
Neither Free Nor Fair: The Subversion of Democracy Under NLRB Elections contrasts what NLRB elections look like in the real world with what happens in elections for public office.
American Rights at Work commissioned University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer to investigate how current union election procedures measure up to U.S. democratic standards. In spite of the presence of secret ballots, the report concludes that union representation elections fall alarmingly short of living up to the most fundamental tenets of democracy.» Download the report (PDF: 38 pages, 409 KB)
This report provides an in-depth look at workers fighting for the right to form unions in Florida's nursing home industry. Findings indicate that workers face widespread and systematic violations of their legal and human rights, and show the need for labor law reform.
» Download the report (PDF: 24 pages, 316 KB)
"Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against workers' freedom of association that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers." Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth
"[Union election] delays extend the duration and the effectiveness of the employer campaign and undermine employee confidence in the effectiveness of both the union and the labor board."
"Anti-union employers are making a mockery of the principles governing American elections. Weak labor laws allow anti-union employers to manipulate the outcome of union elections in a manner that is inherently unfair and undemocratic."
Just like their characters from The West Wing, Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Schiff care deeply about the struggles of working families. That's why they came to Washington, DC to help kick off our "Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act" campaign and recorded this video. Check it out!
American Rights at Work has launched www.FixOurJobs.org, a grassroots campaign and website to highlight the inexcusable conditions and injustices that workers across America endure every day.
We're giving America's workers a place to vent, and to press our nation’s leaders for big, bold fixes to our jobs crisis.
Let's face it. Something's wrong when CEOs rake in hundreds of times what their employees earn, and workers get the boot just for talking about unions. It could almost be a bad joke if it weren't such a serious problem.
That's why we teamed up with the award-winning producers at Brave New Films to make this video about a workplace where employees work without benefits, pay is based on favoritism, and the CEO is the only one with a contract.
After you watch, we hope you take a minute to sign our petition for the Employee Free Choice Act.
This video shows what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about. Originally produced for SEIU at their international convention last month, this 8-minute movie explains what the Employee Free Choice Act is, why we need it, and who it'd help. If you've got eight minutes, sit back, press play, and pass on this video to friends and family.
American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.