APRIL 3, 2007
In a strongly-worded decision made public today, the International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, issued an unprecedented call for the United States to “promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina,” and called specifically for the repeal of North Carolina General Statute §95-98, the state law that prohibits public employee collective bargaining.
The ILO finding comes in response to a complaint filed in December 2005 by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) and UE Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Union. In February 2006, UE was joined in its complaint by Public Services International (PSI), a worldwide federation of trade unions representing more than 20 million public sector workers in 160 countries.
The ILO ruling is a major victory for labor and civil rights organizations in North Carolina who have been demanding full collective bargaining rights for public employees. UE Local 150 leaders say they expect the ILO’s call for changes in North Carolina labor law to have an immediate impact on the General Assembly, and intend to hand-deliver copies of the ILO decision to the office of each member of the Assembly.
The complaint charged the U.S. with failure to uphold its obligations, as a member state of the ILO, to protect the internationally-recognized rights of public employees in North Carolina to freedom of association and collective bargaining. North Carolina General Statute § 95-98 prohibits collective bargaining and declares any agreement between a labor union and any city, town, county, or the state to be illegal and null and void. The union alleges in the complaint that, by failing to take actions to overturn this law, the U.S. government is violating international law and ILO rules. The ILO’s decision sustains these charges.
The complaint was investigated by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA), its division for investigating violations of workers’ rights to form unions and collectively bargain. The U.S. government filed responses to the complaint in November 2006 and January 2007. The ILO CFA’s report concludes with the following recommendation:
The Committee[CFA] requests the [United States] Government to promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina – with the participation of representatives of the state and local administration and public employees’ trade unions, and the technical assistance of the [ILO] Office if so desired – and to take steps aimed at bringing the state legislation, in particular through the repeal of NCGS § 95-9895-98, into conformity with the freedom of association principles, thus ensuring the effective recognition of the right of collective bargaining throughout the country’s territory. The Committee requests to be kept informed of developments in this respect.
In the Autumn of 2005, the International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) sent an independent delegation of international labor rights experts from around the world to North Carolina to document working conditions for public sector workers in the state. After meeting with workers, visiting work sites, and taking substantial testimony at hearings attended by hundreds of public sector workers, the ICLR delegation determined that North Carolina’s prohibition of collective bargaining had resulted in deplorable working conditions for state and municipal workers and that, if they were to gain the right to bargain collectively, these workers could significantly improve their working conditions.
Frustration with the lack of collective bargaining and effective voice on the job has led to increasing protests by North Carolina public employees. The most dramatic recent instance was a strike by Raleigh sanitation workers on September 13-14, 2006.
UE has been organizing North Carolina public employees, and campaigning for public worker bargaining rights, for over 10 years. In addition to the ILO complaint, UE has recently been involved in two other actions before international bodies, as part of its effort to bring about a change in state law. In October 2006, at UE’s request, 53 labor organizations from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. brought charges that North Carolina’s ban on public employee bargaining violates the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In January 2007, UE requested a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on charges that North Carolina’s collective bargaining ban is a human rights violation. IACHR is a body of the Organization of American States (OAS), and UE’s filing was co-signed by 27 national and international organizations and 23 North Carolina or regional organizations.
“We are very excited and gratified that the ILO has endorsed what our union had been saying for years,” said Angaza Laughinghouse, a state worker and president of UE Local 150. “This ruling by an important body of the United Nations adds tremendous weight to the push for collective bargaining rights for all North Carolina workers. We call on Governor Mike Easley to provide leadership to bring our state into harmony with international principles of democracy and human rights for working people.”
UE’s national Director of Organization Bob Kingsley echoed those sentiments. “This decision is an international wake-up call to state lawmakers in North Carolina,” Kingsley said. “The world is watching. It’s time to change the law and erase the disgraceful human rights deficit in the state today.”
“The Committee on Freedom of Association has once again proven its immensely valuable role in defending the rights of public sector workers,” said Hans Engelberts, General Secretary of Public Service International. “In this important test case in North Carolina, the PSI affiliate, UE, submitted a detailed case to defend the right to collective baragining on behalf of over 30,000 government workers, the majority of whom are women and people of color. The US government has been requested to meet its obligations as a member of the ILO and to establish a collective baragining framework in consultaton with representative workers’ organisations. We urge the US government to do just that! " said Hans Engelberts, General Secretary of Public Servicers International.
UE Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, represents public sector workers across the state, including municipal employees in Raleigh, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Durham and Rocky Mount, and state employees at numerous facilities of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the University of North Carolina (UNC) system and the Department of Administration. UE 150 is an affiliate of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE), an independent national union with headquarters in Pittsburgh, PA.
UE 150 has been aided in its campaign for worker rights in North Carolina by several important allies, including the state NAACP, Hear Our Public Employees (HOPE) Coalition, and Southern Faith-Labor Community Alliance.