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Labor Law Reform

The Bill of Rights has never been applied in the workplace, where employers maintain near absolute control. With our constitutional rights shredded by the bosses, our modern-day rights to organize into unions are also ignored by bosses. Our freedom to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures ends at the gate or front door. Our freedoms of speech and assembly are virtually nonexistent while at work – unless you have a union.

The passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 was the closest that labor would get to winning a worker bill of rights. This was immediately attacked by employers through their legislatures and courts. The Wagner Act provided labor the right to organize, to bargain, and to strike without interference from the employer. For the first time employers were required to recognize and bargain with a union of the workers’ choice.

In response to the Wagner Act and the dramatic success of the CIO, big business counterattacked, and a Republican congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. This restricted the ability of organized labor to organize and deal effectively with the problems that labor faced. The law took away the right of labor to challenge the employer with the use of secondary boycotts, made closed shops illegal, allowed states to pass “right-to-work” laws, allowed the President to interfere in strikes, and gave employers the ability to prevent workers from organizing.

UE has been in the forefront calling for reform of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). No significant progress has been made on the labor rights front in decades, and today employers brazenly violate the law and victimize working people who dare to challenge their complete control by attempting to unionize. In the public sector, many workers are prohibited from bargaining collectively and those who may bargain more often than not lack the right to strike. We are faced with a labor and human rights emergency here in the U.S.

The facts are shocking but little known. Almost 10 percent of workers who engage in organizing are fired by their employers, amounting to tens of thousands every year. Of those union drives that manage to navigate the minefield of employer lawbreaking, only half are won by working people. And of those lucky enough to win, only half will obtain a first union contract. The ranks of those reaching this nearly unattainable pinnacle are then cut in half once again, as only half of those unions winning first union contracts ever win second contracts. Since 1979, the percentage of unionized workers in the U.S. has declined from 24 percent to 11 percent and the percentage is now less than 10 percent in manufacturing.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charged with protecting our rights, too often merely frustrates our ability to organize, bargain and strike. We are still suffering from the effects of the Bush administration’s appointments to the NLRB that created a board that is the most anti-worker in history.

Despite the magnitude of the labor rights crisis here in the U.S., and despite the fact that it remains the most pressing issue challenging the very existence of our multiple unions, the labor movement has been slow to address the problem. For many decades the AFL-CIO ignored this human rights debacle here at home and instead joined with our government all over the globe to promote the myth that American workers enjoyed perfect democracy.

What the enemies of labor cannot achieve at the federal level they are now seeking at the state level. Labor is under an orchestrated attack in nearly every state government that is controlled by Republicans. We have witnessed this in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, Indiana, and North Carolina to name a few. They wish to turn back the clock to the time when labor had no rights and the robber barons ruled.

President Obama was elected on a pro-labor agenda that included the card check Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and a promise to “walk the picket line.” He has failed on his promises and has instead followed the policies of the Chamber of Commerce.

Now is the time for a law that protects workers and grants all rights and freedoms under the Constitution. In order to really safeguard workers, the right to associate – the right of working people to have the ability to say under what conditions they will or will not labor – must be enshrined in our understanding of U.S. citizenship. Labor laws must be grounded in the Constitution and specifically in the Bill of Rights. Workers whose rights were fully protected under the First Amendment would be free to assemble, speak and associate anywhere and at all times, to organize without employer intervention, bargain collectively, strike, boycott, or refuse to handle goods where workers are on strike or those that have been boycotted.


  1. Calls on Congress to amend the Constitution to include worker rights; and in the meantime to pass legislation giving workers the same constitutional rights to organize without restriction or limitation in the workplace that we enjoy outside the workplace, including substantial penalties for employers who violate these rights;
  2. Calls on Congress to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act;
  3. Calls on Congress to pass a law restoring the right to strike without fear of “permanent replacement;”
  4. Urges locals to share information with other unions about the labor rights emergency and the need for real labor law reform;
  5. Calls on our membership to engage in all forms of aggressive struggle including, where appropriate, civil disobedience in order to obtain workplace justice;
  6. Supports the movements in all states that call for the expansion of the rights of labor and that would end all restriction on the ability of labor to function freely.