The Bill of Rights has never been applied in the workplace, where employers are empowered to maintain near-absolute control. With our constitutional rights shredded by our employers, 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 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), passed in 1935, was the closest that labor would get to a “bill of rights.” This was immediately attacked by the employers through their legislatures and courts. The NLRA 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 labor’s growing strength, a reactionary Congress amended the NLRA with 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 boycott, made closed shops illegal, allowed states to pass "right-to-work” laws as was recently done in Indiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Kentucky, allowed the President to interfere in strikes, and gave employers more tools to stop workers from organizing.
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 can bargain often lack the right to strike.
The facts are shocking. 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. The percentage of unionized workers in the U.S. declined from 24 percent in 1979 to 10.7 percent in 2016 (less than seven percent in manufacturing). These levels are the lowest since before the great organizing drives of the 1930s. In other industrial countries, union density is many times higher.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charged with protecting our rights, too often merely frustrates our ability to organize, bargain and strike. We now are just beginning to see the impact of the anti-labor appointments of the Trump administration.
Despite the magnitude of the labor rights crisis here in the U.S., 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.
Labor is also under a coordinated attack in nearly every state that is controlled by the Republican Party. We have witnessed this in Wisconsin and Iowa where the rights of public employees to organize and bargain have been largely throttled. The corporate agenda is to destroy labor rights in both the private and public sector. They wish to turn back the clock to when the robber barons ruled and there was no protection for labor.
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 the U.S. Constitution. Workers whose rights were fully protected under the Constitution would be free to assemble, speak and associate anywhere and at all times, to organize without employer intervention, to bargain collectively, to strike, to boycott, or to refuse to handle goods.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 75th UE CONVENTION:
- 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;
- Pass legislation that would put in place real penalties for employers that violate the rights of workers;
- Repeal the Taft-Hartley Act.
- Urges UE locals to:
- Challenge state laws that restrict the rights of workers in the public and private sectors to organize and bargain;
- Share information with other unions about the labor rights emergency and the need for real labor law reform;
- Calls on our membership to engage in all forms of aggressive struggle including, where appropriate, civil disobedience in order to obtain workplace justice;
- Support 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.