U.S. Tramples Worker Rights
by Robert Weissman
Multinational Monitor, July/August 1999
While in theory U.S. law provides for workers to have freedom of association,
the right to join trade unions and participate in collective bargaining
is in practice denied to large segments of the American workforce in both
the public and the private sectors."
That is the central conclusion of a report issued by the Brussels-based
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in July.
The report paints a devastating portrayal of labor rights abuses in
the United States:
* "Employers receive legal protection for extensive interference
in the decision of workers as to whether or not they wish to have union
representation. This includes active campaigning by employers among employees
against union representation as well as participating in campaigns to eliminate
* "Penalties for breaking the law are so limited and ineffective
that there is a high level of corporate lawlessness with respect to labor
law. At least one in 10 union supporters campaigning to form a union is
* Employers engage in widespread harassment and intimidation against
union supporters. Often the consultants, detectives and security firms used
to intimidate workers engage in "surveillance of union activists in
order to discredit them. In some cases, court, medical and credit records
of union activists are obtained and the family lives of activists are studied
for possible weaknesses. "
* Many government workers, the report notes, are denied the right to
strike or bargain collectively over hours, wages and other critical issues.
Nearly half of public workers suffer from full or partial denial of collective
Union supporters who suffer from illegal firings, harassment, surveillance
or improper employer electioneering do not have adequate remedies at the
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
NLRB procedures, ICFTU states, "do not provide workers with effective
redress in the face of abuses by employers. "
NLRB delays and inability to award damages more than job reinstatement
and lost wages (minus earnings during the period between illegal dismissal
and NLRB order) are so severe that many wronged union supporters simply
do not bother filing a case with the NLRB.
Employers also routinely eviscerate the rights of those workers who
are unionized, the report finds:
* "The law gives employers the 'free play of economic forces.'
If employers cannot get what they want through collective bargaining, they
can unilaterally impose their terms, lock out their employees, and transfer
work to another location, or even to another legal entity. "
The ICFTU reports refers to Crown Central Petroleum's lockout of 250
Texas workers as an example.
* "An increasing number of employers have deliberately provoked
strikes to get rid of trade unions. Unacceptable demands are made of workers
and are often accompanied by arrangements for the recruiting and training
* Strike-breakers are also used to prevent unions from ever reaching
a first contract.
* And, while U.S. Iaw does prohibit the firing of workers for exercising
collective bargaining rights, at the same time it permits employers to lock
out and "permanently replace" those workers.
The ICFTU report also criticizes the United States for permitting widespread
use of child labor, especially in the agricultural industry and among migrant
workers; and, in a growing number of cases, permitting prisoners to be compelled
to work for pay (for rates as low as 23 cents a day).
"A series of far-reaching measures need to be taken in order to
establish genuine respect for core labor standards within the United States,
particularly with regard to trade union rights," the ICFTU report concludes.