Most workers were having a tough time even during the so-called pre-crisis good times. Even while the economy was growing, average wages and household income was stagnating if not actually falling. So, what were workers doing?
Many of them were trying to defend their interests by pursuing unionization—but corporate responses made that very difficult. In fact, according to a recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research [CEPR], “pro-union workers were fired in 26 percent of union election campaigns over the period 2001-2007 (most recent available data). The 26 percent rate is up from about 16 percent in the last half of the 1990s. The share of elections in 2001-2007 with an illegal firing was almost as high as the historical peak for such activity –31 percent during the period 1981-1985.” By contrast, the rate was only 4-5 percent in the 1950s and 8 percent for most of the 1970.
This corporate response was part of a broader effort to boost profit margins at worker expense. And as John Schmitt, CEPR senior economist and lead author of the study noted: “The financial penalties for illegal actions, including firing pro-union workers, are minimal, so it makes perfect sense for employers to break the law to derail union-organizing efforts.”
To change this situation, workers and their unions are pushing for adoption of the Employee Free Choice Act. This act does three things to improve things:
* It strengthens penalties against companies that illegally coerce or intimidate employees in an effort to prevent them from forming a union;
* It brings in a neutral third party to settle a contract when a company and a newly certified union cannot agree on a contract after three months;
* It lets employees decide how to express their choice to organize, either by balloting or by majority sign-up, meaning that if a majority of the employees sign union-authorization cards, validated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a company must recognize the union.
Corporations are doing what they can to keep Congress from voting on this act. Despite pre-election support for changes in labor law, the Obama administration has yet to take a strong stand on behalf of this act. Let’s hope that strong public pressure will encourage it to do the right thing.
If you want to learn more about this and other labor related struggles visit Jobs with Justice.