We hear a constant drumbeat of media coverage about the rosy economic picture, GDP records being broken, and low unemployment rates. Meanwhile, we have refreshingly seen an uptick in coverage about economic inequality and the wealth divide, challenges facing the working class, the homelessness crisis, and the face of poverty in America. But we rarely hear about the interconnectedness of today’s working class struggle and our nation’s eroded, undermined, and outdated labor laws.
According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, between 1978 and 2018, CEO compensation rose 940% compared to a 12% rise in pay for the average worker. We in the labor movement know that the only real check to ruthless, relentless greed in our economy is strong, thriving unions. But let’s look at the reality for workers today.
Imagine this scenario: You and a group of coworkers have made it through the daunting task of forming your first union. You commence bargaining with your employer, who is legally required to do so, and you’re met by a brick wall. Your employer refuses to bargain in good faith, drags on the process for over a year, and forces your coworkers to lose confidence in the process and their ability to bargain a fair contract. Charges are filed with the NLRB, but the regional NLRB office is so understaffed with a backlog of cases that further delays ensue. As you and your coworkers have grown frustrated by union-busting tactics, several have been cultivated by managers to oppose the union. They file a decertification petition aiming to formally remove the union that was just voted in by a majority of workers and are successful.
Or imagine this: A group of workers is organizing their union when their employer flies in an out-of-state “union avoidance consultant.” This “consultant” schedules a special all-employee meeting aimed at deterring the organizing effort. This meeting is followed up by mandatory one-on-one meetings with each employee where fear and intimidation tactics are used to undermine the workers ability to connect with enough of their coworkers to succeed with their campaign.
These types of scenarios might seem outlandish or far-fetched, because these types of tactics used by employers are seemingly illegal. Unfortunately, these and countless other ruthless tactics are used by the Corporate Agenda in Oregon and across the country everyday to silence the voice of working people. The “union avoidance” legal industry has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s had a string of successes. In fact, every single change to the 1935 Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act, since it was passed has been an anti-worker change. Workers need a rewrite of our labor laws, and we need them fast.
For the first time in a decade, a comprehensive labor law reform bill is poised to move forward in the U.S. House of Representatives. The PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act, H.R. 2474, has passed out of Committee, but a vote on the floor of the U.S. House has been delayed for several months. After a group of over 70 Democratic members of the U.S. House, including our own Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, wrote a recent letter to Speaker Pelosi urging a swift vote on this critical bill, it appears that the vote could happen before President’s Day. While this is an exciting step to ensure workers have an unfettered opportunity to join unions if they choose, it’s one of many steps needed to fix our broken economy.
While nearly every single Democratic member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation has signed onto the PRO Act as a co-sponsor, one disappointment has been Congressman Kurt Schrader who said he will not vote for the bill in its current form. Workers expect more from their elected leaders, they are looking for champions.
If lawmakers want to be a champion for workers, if they want to get real about fixing economic inequality, they MUST prioritize making it easier for more workers to join unions immediately. Workers have been told to wait for change for far too long.
The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 138,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.