Two global union federations and more than 40 labor organizations in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. representing several million workers, have jointly filed a charge against the United States, under the North American Agreement for Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). (List of participating organizations below.)
The complaint, formally filed in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday, April 23, by the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, charges that North Carolina and the United States are violating international labor rights standards embodied in NAALC by denying the right to engage in collective bargaining with their employers to 650,000 public employees in the state.
The growing crisis in North Carolina’s state mental hospitals is the latest example of problems linked to the denial of public employee bargaining rights, and this crisis spurred the filing of this international complaint. Last year the number of work days missed due to workplace injuries in the state’s four major psychiatric hospitals totaled 4,380. A preliminary analysis by the union shows that as many as 90 percent of these injuries, many of which result from patient attacks on hospital employees, may be linked to understaffing of the hospitals. At Broughton Hospital in Morganton 156 injuries led to 1,622 missed work days in 2007.
Larsene Taylor, a healthcare technician at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, decried the increase in on-the-job injuries suffered by her co-workers as a result of understaffing and poor management decisions in the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “We know what is needed to serve the patients and make the hospitals safer,” said Taylor, who is also Recording Secretary of UE Local 150 and chair of its DHHS Council. “We need collective bargaining to give us a voice in improving the hospitals.”
Frustration with the lack of collective bargaining and effective voice on the job has led to other protests by North Carolina public employees, including work stoppages by municipal sanitation workers in both Raleigh and Durham.
The complaint was filed at the request of UE Local 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union. UE 150 represents public sector workers across the state, including municipal employees in Raleigh, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Durham and Rocky Mount, and state employees at five facilities of DHHS, the University of North Carolina (UNC) system and the Department of Administration.
Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse expressed his union’s gratitude for the showing of international support. “We are very pleased with the solidarity being extended to North Carolina public employees by unions from across the three NAFTA countries and by worldwide labor federations. This shows that North Carolina’s continued denial of basic worker rights is an international disgrace. It’s an injustice and an embarrassment to this state that our elected officials must correct.”
The national president of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) in Canada, James Clancy, is calling on Canada’s Labour Minister to step in personally and to forcefully remind his U.S. counterpart of their obligations under NAFTA. “The government of North Carolina is trampling on NAFTA labor standards which Canada, the U.S and Mexico are obliged to respect and uphold,” says Clancy. “The Canadian government can’t turn a blind eye to such flagrant abuses. Canada must respond vigorously and at the highest levels.”
The NAALC requires the United States, Mexico and Canada to provide for “high labor standards” in their laws, and lists freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining among its core principles. These rights are also guaranteed by the conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), the labor arm of the United Nations (UN.) In March 2007 the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO reported on its investigation of a complaint brought by UE against North Carolina’s statutory ban on collective bargaining. It found in the union’s favor, called for the repeal of North Carolina General Statute 95-98, and called on the U.S. government “to promote the establishment of a collective bargaining framework in the public sector in North Carolina.”
North Carolina General Statute 95-98 prohibits collective bargaining by state and local government employees, a clear and direct violation of international law. The NAALC also requires standards of due process for workers, protection of health and safety on the job, and protection against employment discrimination. The labor groups charge that North Carolina, in denying its workers the right to negotiate contracts, denies them these protections as well.
The complaint is being filed with the Canadian National Administrative Office (NAO). Under NAFTA’s terms, the U.S., Canada and Mexico each established an NAO to act on complaints of violations of the NAALC. The petitioners are asking the Canadian NAO to conduct an investigation in North Carolina on the alleged labor rights violations, and to issue a report and recommendations for action. The actions requested by the labor organizations include North Carolina immediately ceasing to enforce, and moving to repeal General Statute 95-98, replacing it with legislation that will guarantee public sector workers the rights to organize, bargain collectively, and full freedom of association.
A similar complaint against the North Carolina bargaining ban was filed in October 2006 by a Mexican labor federation, the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (Authentic Labor Front or FAT), along with dozens of other labor organizations, mostly from Mexico, the U.S. and Canada. In October 2007 Mexico’s NAO accepted the complaint and launched an investigation. Mexico and Canada are North Carolina’s largest international trading partners. The state’s combined annual exports to Canada and Mexico total $6.5 billion.
Organizations that joined in filing the complaint:
- Alianza de Tranviarios de México
- American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO
- Asociación Sindical de Pilotos Aviadores de México ASPA
- Asociación Sindical de Sobrecargos de Aviación de México
- B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union
- Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers
- Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW-Canada)
- Canadian Labour Congress
- Canadian Union of Postal Workers
- Canadian Union of Public Employees
- Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ)
- Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada
- Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN)
- Farm Labor Organizing Committee
- Federacion Estatal de Sindicatos Autenticos de Guanajuato (FESAG-FAT)
- Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec
- Fédération des travailleurs du Québec
- Frente Auténtico del Trabajo (FAT)
- International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions
- International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State
- National Union of Public and General Employees
- Public Services International (PSI)
- Service Employees International Union
- Sindicato Democrático de Trabajadores de Pesca y Acuacultura de la SAGARPA
- Sindicato “Flores Magon” de Trabajadores de la Fabrica Hulera Industrial Leonesa, S. A. de C. V.
- Sindicato Industrial de Trabajadores Textiles y Similares Belisario Domingo (FAT)
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Indústria de la Costura, Confección, Vestido, Similares y Conexos 19 de Septiembre (FAT)
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Elevadores Otis
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Costura, Confeccion, Vestido, Similares y Conexos “Diecinueve de Septiembre”
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Indústria del Hierro, el Acero, Productos Derivados, Similares y Conexos de la República Mexicana (SNTIHA)
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana
- Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Telecomm-Telegrafos
- Sindicato Nacional Único y Democrático de los Trabajadores del Banco Nacional de Comercio Exterior
- Sindicato de Telefonistas de la República Mexicana
- Sindicato de Trabajadores de Casas Comerciales, Oficinas y Expendios, Similares y Conexos del Distrito Federal (STRACC)
- Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria Metalica, Acero, Hierro, Conexos y Similares. (STIMAHCS)
- Sindicato de Trabajadores de Met Life
- Sindicato de Trabajadores del Instituto Nacional para el Desarrollo de Capacidades del Sector Rural
- Sindicato de Trabajadores del Transporte en General, Similares y Conexos de la República Mexicana
- Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de Nacional Financiera (Suntnafin)
- Syndicat de la fonction publique du Québec (SFPQ)
- United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)
- United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
- United Steelworkers (USW)