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Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 23:55:55 -0700 (PDT)
From: Harry Kelber <hkelber@igc.org>
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] LaborTalk: Why Drop Worker Rights?
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Why Drop Worker Rights?

Harry Kelber, from WeeklyLaborTalk
10 April 1999

For the past several years, the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have spent a great deal of money, time and energy in fighting anti-labor legislation in Congress and the state legislatures.

Now at long last, there are two bills in Congress that speak up for the basic right of workers to join a union without the threat of being harassed, discriminated against or fired. They contain provisions that unions have been desperately crying for, but in vain, during the past six years of the Clinton Administration.

The two bills are: "The Right-to-Organize Act," introduced by Sen. Paul Wellstone (Dem.-Minn.) and "The Workplace Democracy Act" (H.R. 1277) by Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.).

The Sanders bill, in particular, would remove the major obstacles that make it so difficult to organize non-union workers in sufficient numbers to enable labor to grow. Here is what it provides: (1) union recognition by a card check of the majority of workers; (2) a quicker and fairer way to gain a first contract: "If by 45 days after certification, no collective bargaining agreement has been reached, the union has the right to binding arbitration."

The heavy penalties in the bill would make employers think twice before illegally firing or harassing their employees during a union organizing campaign. Besides having to pay triple back wages to a discharged worker, the employer would be subject to civil penalties of not less than $10,000 for each willful violation of the Act. Even more, companies that willfully commit unfair labor practices would be barred from bidding on federal government contracts.

These labor law reforms are what unions have been hoping for as they see employers firing thousands of pro-union workers and stalling indefinitely on negotiating a first contract with their employees.

But hard to believe, the AFL-CIO refuses to support either of the two bills. Its spokesman on worker rights, Richard Greer, says that "political reality," (a Republican-controlled Congress) makes it pointless to do anything about labor law reform in the 106th Congress. In effect, the AFL-CIO will not raise the issue of labor law reform in Election 2000.

This position makes no sense at all. What better time to promote worker rights legislation than now, with an election coming up next year and when the public will be listening to the issues? To involve union members in a worker rights campaign, what more effective way is there than giving them some tangible pro-labor bills to rally around? If AFL-CIO leaders think this is the wrong time to campaign for worker rights legislation, then when is the right time?

There is a strong suspicion that the AFL-CIO high command is bowing to the wishes of the Democratic Party, which considers worker rights a divisive issue that may cost its candidates votes. Let's recall that labor's voice was mute on worker rights in the 1998 election, echoing the issues framed by the Democratic candidates. Will the AFL-CIO choke up on worker rights in the 18 months before Election 2000?

We hope you've checked out The Labor Educator's Internet newsmagazine (www.laboreducator.org). If you subscribe, you'll be getting more solid news and independent-minded analysis each month than any labor publication in the United States.

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