New Rights for Workers

August 28, 2015 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, August 27, 2015, could be an important date in the history of our country.  The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision that empowered employees of a franchise business, like a MadDonald’s, to organize and bargain collectively, not only with the owner of the franchise, but also with the parent franchisor.  Both the local owner and the parent company will be liable for unfair labor practices infringing the protected rights of the workers to organize and bargain collectively for wages, hours and working conditions.  Here is link to the NY Times story:  http://nyti.ms/1En49pk  .[You must copy this link and paste into your browser.  Then it works fine.  Sorry, the Times, for some reason didn’t allow me copy a clickable link.]

This Ruling is a Weapon

Why is this obscure administrative ruling so important?  Because most workers in America no longer work in factories.  They work in retail stores and restaurants, many of which are locally owned through franchises purchased from giant multinational corporations.

Yesterday’s ruling changes the NLRB’s treatment of these business arrangements.  Since 1998, according to the Time’s story, if a local franchise location became the target of union organizing effort likely to succeed, the parent  issuer of the franchise reacted by terminating the franchise, finding a new owner and nullifying the rights of the employees.  As a result of yesterday’s ruling, this kind of union busting is no longer available because it will be an unfair labor practice for which injunctive relief and money damages in the form of backpay will be remedies enforceable by the Labor Board.

A month ago I posted a short essay on this blog entitled “It’s The Power, Stupid”. in which I advocated the organizing of these franchise businesses.  I had doubts about the willingness of any union to become involved in that kind of organizing.  Even with yesterday’s ruling, I still have doubts about the willingness and ability of present unions to tackle this kind of organizing.  Low skilled workers can be easily replaced.  Low wage workers will not have savings sufficient to sustain themselves during a strike.  Secondary boycotts are still prohibited by our present labor laws.

These were my reasons for suggesting that organizing retail employees should be done by informal organizing techniques led by a cadre of trained organizers.  Farm workers in South Texas benefited from the fact that their organization did not have a fat treasury vulnerable to lawsuits filed by the growers.  The growers were able to use state courts, presided over by anti union politicians, to cripple their organizing.  Yesterday’s NLRB ruling means that those weapons will no longer be available.  Despite these developments, however, I still think this kind of organizing should follow the model created by the farmworkers, not by the steelworkers or the oil workers unions.

Workers Must Be Made Aware of This Weapon and Trained to Use It

Our present unions should support and encourage the organizing of retail workers just as the United Auto Workers supported and encouraged the farmworkers.  Remember, the U.S. Supreme Court case that affirmed the legal rights of South Texas farmworkers to organize free of interference from Texas Ranger thugs is entitled Medrano v. Allee.  The “Medrano” in that title was Pancho Medrano, an organizer from the United Auto Workers.  I don’t think Pancho ever picked a melon in his life, but he helped thousands of other Chicanos from the melon fields gain power and dignity.

The Weapon Requires Federal Protection and Federal Money

Lobbyists and lawyers whose multimillion dollar salaries depend on protecting multinational corporations from their employees’ demands for economic justice are meeting today to plan ways to gut yesterday’s NLRB decision.  Ever;y Congressman and Senator who can be bought has just learned that new laws drafted by corporate lawyers will be  arriving in his or her mailbox marked “URGENT”.  The publicity will probably be carefully manipulated to warn and scare employers without alerting workers.

The wrecking crew will have two objectives:  First, to enact federal laws designed to overrule the NLRB decision.  Second, to cut the budget of the NLRB and any other federal agency having any enforcement authority to implement the decision.

This is a test for the Democratic Party.  The question is:  Will the Democratic Party prove its relevance to the economic issues affecting the working class in America?  Or, will the pollsters, handlers and donors convince the Democratic Party candidates for election in 2016 that enthusiasm for enabling American workers to organize and claim wage rates and working conditions allowing  them to stop their slide toward poverty is too controversial and divisive; that the issue should be, therefore, avoided and ignored?

The budgets for the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should be dramatically increased.  Those two federal agencies should launch community education programs designed to inform American workers of their rights and remedies based on these two agencies.  Evening classes should be conducted in churches and union halls and other public venues.  Local union leaders could be used as adjunct professors or teachers.  Over time  these efforts could re-establish trust that the federal government is a source of useful and practical ways for ordinary citizens to improve their lives.

I believe this issue is a perfect way for political candidates to focus the 2016 political campaign on wealth inequality.  We have waited long enough for a “rising tide to raise all boats”.  A tidal wave is required and tidal waves begin when the seabed is shaken or gale-force winds white-cap  the gentle rocking  surf.  Our Democratic Party sailors should not be huddled amidships.  They should be on deck, in slickers, Sou’westers firmly buckled, welcoming the wind.

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