Why Labor Law Doesn’t Work for Workers

Fear of firing is probably the single biggest reason why workers don’t organize unions. According to a recent report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Dropping the Ax: Illegal Firings During Union Election Campaigns, 1951-2007,” by John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer, workers were fired for union activity in thirty percent of all union campaigns, so fear isn’t unreasonable. “Aggressive actions by employers – often including illegal firings — have significantly undermined the ability of US workers to unionize their workplaces,” according to report co-author John Schmitt. “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.”

Posted by Bulatlat

Lancaster, California – After months of a media war supporting and condemning it, the Employee Free Choice Act was finally introduced into Congress again this week. The bill has been debated before, but with a larger Democratic majority, its chances of passage are much greater today, and President Obama has said he’ll sign it. Employers, therefore, are fighting it as never before.

Behind the verbal fireworks, workers on the ground say that current labor law has no teeth and must be changed. In Lancaster, California, one of the country’s hardest-fought organizing drives highlights the obstacles they face.

A year ago, employees at Rite Aid’s huge drug warehouse there voted to join a union. On March 21, 2008, the National Labor Relations Board certified that union, giving it the right to negotiate a first union contract. But Rite Aid, workers say, has just been waiting for the year to expire. Once it does, the company can stop the pretense of negotiating.

But an even more serious problem lies beyond. When the year is up, a group of pro-company workers will likely petition for a new election, where the company can try to undo last year’s pro-union vote.

These are just the latest maneuvers in Rite Aid’s war against the union. For the last three years its employees have overcome one obstacle after another in their effort to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Each obstacle has been placed in their path by this country’s weak labor laws, a problem the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was written to correct. That’s why Rite Aid and other large employers are fighting the bill in Congress.

EFCA would go a long way toward solving the problems workers have at three crucial stages in union organizing efforts – anti-union firings at the beginning, getting their union recognized, and negotiating that first agreement. Says Angel Warner, one of Rite Aid’s most vocal pro-union employees, “if we’d had EFCA, we’d have had our union and contract a long time ago.”

Rite Aid opened its big new Lancaster warehouse in the high desert just northeast of Los Angeles in 1999, with tax breaks for locating in a local enterprise zone. The facility might have been new, but working in it was like stepping into the past. The cavernous building was freezing cold in the winter and broiling hot in the summer. The company installed a computerized, state-of-the-art tracking system for the myriad products it sends out to stores everyday. But that system put punishing pressure on people to work faster, timing their every move.

Employees say they were pushed hard by their supervisors, getting rewards and advancement only if they got on the inside track. Ten-hour days are normal and mandatory overtime comes all the time. “If management likes you it’s fine,” Warner says, “but if you’re not in good, you have to watch out because you’re always on the chopping block. I’ve been there since Rite Aid opened, and I’ve watched a lot of people come and go.”

Share This Post