The New Threat Facing Union Organizers

June 17, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco 

The GOP is at it again.

New York, NY - The job of union organizers could soon get a lot tougher if House Republicans are successful enacting a trio of new bills being sold to the American public as a package of necessary “Labor reforms.” 

Last week, the House Education and Workforce Committee held a hearing on the Orwellian-named Employees Rights Act, Workplace Democracy and Fairness Act and the Employee Privacy Protection Act. 

Taken together, the bills could make winning a union election in the workplace about as likely as hitting a home run off a Joe Kelly fastball. 

Not likely at all. 

Just over 10 percent of the American workplace is currently unionized — mostly in the public sector. That’s partly due to the high hurdles union organizers must continually overcome just to get a workplace vote, and then make it stick. 

And even when organizers are successful, it’s all too common for employers to drag their feet all the way to the bargaining table or simply ignore workplace election results entirely. 

If passed, the trio of acts in the House could further trigger endless recertification votes, extend the time employers have to undermine organizing campaigns, obstruct union access to workers, and more. 

According to the House committee chair, however, the measures are somehow intended to “empower workers” and “restore their rights.” 

But that’s not at all how it looks to union organizers on the ground who spend their days, many times alone and unaided, tangling with deep-pocketed employers and their high-priced teams of union-busting consultants. 

“To allow for a recertification process if there is a 50 percent turnover within a company as the Employees Rights Act spells out, is to hand the reins to the employer,” Ruben Colon, representative with the New York City District Council of Carpenters Area Standards Dept. told LaborPress. “Unscrupulous employers can easily find ways to rid themselves of ‘undesirables’ with the intent of meeting such quotas.”

Currently, if a National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] election is lost in favor of an employer, a union must wait a year before it can reapply again; immediately knocking organizing efforts back to square one.

“As for the Workplace Democracy & Fairness Act, it's the Conservative answer to the so-called Ambush Rule,” Colon continued. “The purpose of the ruling is to thwart efforts by unscrupulous employers from breaking the spirits of workers prior to an NLRB Election. We must keep in mind, that such employers have direct access to their workforce day in, day out. It’s common knowledge among organizers that there is a high propensity for employers to carry out extensive, heartless, psychologically stressful, campaigns on their employees in an effort to break there will.”

Finally, the veteran union representative called the so-called Employee Privacy Act blocking union access to employee contact information another “blatant tool to thwart organizing.”

“To deny an organizer the Excelsior List granting him/her the ability to conduct outreach once an NLRB Election is approved is to completely stack the deck in favor of the employer, who again, has regular, at will, exclusive access to his employees,” Colon said. “Not good at all for those who aspire to better workplace conditions.”

Mario Cliento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, says the trio of GOP bills have one purpose: make it harder for workers to join together, speak up and form unions. 

“It's a direct attack on the rights of working men and women to negotiate with their employers over fair wages, benefits and working conditions,” Cilento said in an email. “Our representatives should instead be focused on improving the lives of working families in America by protecting the rights of workers to have a voice in the workplace. It's what we in the labor movement fight for every day and what we will continue to focus on during this time of ramped up attacks by those who seek to destroy us."

Stuart Appelbaum, head of the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union, called the trio of Republican bills a “feeble” attempt to silence American workers that, ultimately, will not succeed. 

“We organize workers to help give a voice to working America at the bargaining table with corporate America,” Appelbaum said. “The Employee Rights Act, Workplace Democracy and Fairness Act, and Employee Privacy Protection Act are all feeble attempts to silence working America – and history has shown us that any attempt to break the backbone of our country – hard working men and women – has and will continue to fail.”

Far from “empowering workers,” 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa told LaborPress that the new legislative package is further proof of the GOP’s enduring allegiance to the 1 percent. 

“Once again, the GOP House majority is teaming up with an administration of the 1 percent and for the 1 percent with a clear goal: cut taxes to the rich and push an agenda designed to favor the powerful and wealthy over the needs of working families.”



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