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|Why are Workers' Rights Violations So Rampant?|
The right to form a union and collectively bargain is a basic right, recognized by U.S. federal law since 1935 and universally recognized and protected around the world. So why is it that over 20,000 workers are fired or discriminated against each year for union activities in this country?1 One reason workers’ rights violations are so widespread is because the American labor law system offers terribly weak punishments.
American Employers Face No Effective Reprisals for Violating Workers’ Rights
Workers’ Rights Violations Escalate With Ineffective Laws
Auto maintenance service workers employed by U-Haul in Nevada experienced first-hand the inadequacy of labor law remedies. Workers at two facilities sought to form a union with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (Machinists) to improve working conditions and wages and benefits.
Some minority workers claimed they were compensated by U-Haul at dramatically different levels than coworkers with the same responsibilities. Other workers desired a union for dignity on the job. Salvador Campos, whose father is Mexican and mother is Puerto Rican, often heard a manager insult the minority workers waiting in line for parts to fix the vehicles: "You dumb Puerto Ricans...This is the Mexican line, this is the Puerto Rican line."In February 2003, hours after the workers filed a petition to hold a union representation election, U-Haul fired four workers. That scare tactic didn’t stop the workers dead in their tracks, so U-Haul ramped up its efforts to remain union-free. Over the course of the organizing drive, U-Haul fired 39 workers and closed down one facility. In spite of the strong resistance from U-Haul and the risks involved, the remaining employees voted 2:1 for union representation in May 2003.
Yet the election victory was merely symbolic because the U-Haul workers are without a collective bargaining agreement. For over 18 months, U-Haul has not honored its legal duty to negotiate with its workers over the terms and conditions of their employment.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) eventually issued a complaint in February 2004 charging the company with multiple illegal acts, including firing employees because of their union activities, firing a supervisor for refusing to violate workers’ rights, closing a facility because of the workers’ organizing activities, interrogating employees about union sentiments and activities, and refusing to recognize and bargain with the union.5
While serious legal charges against U-Haul's anti-union conduct before, during, and after the election are pending at the NLRB, the mechanics are still no closer to equitable treatment, improved wages, or a first contract than they were over a year ago when they voted to form a union.
Because U-Haul will never face serious economic or criminal consequences if the NLRB’s charges against the company are upheld, there is little reason to believe that the government will deter the company from acting illegally. Recently, the company was charged with illegally firing pro-union workers in California and was ordered by an Administrative Law Judge to reinstate them with backpay and to post a notice.6
1 According to 1993-2003 NLRB Annual
Reports, an average of 22,633 workers per year received backpay from
their employer. The NLRB orders employers to award backpay to workers
they illegally fired, demoted, laid off, suspended without pay, or
denied work as a result of their union activity.
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American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.