Anti-Union Measures Harm ALL Workers

Posted on 06 January 2011

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By Caitlin Vega
California Labor Federation

Tuesday's New York Times reports that in a number of states around the country, Republican lawmakers are taking advantage of the budget crises they face to attack unions.

Proposals include limiting collective bargaining, ending prevailing wage on construction projects, eliminating the right to strike, and even banning the union shop. Some Republican House leaders are even pushing to take the word "labor" out of the "Education and Labor Committee" and change the title to "Education and Workforce Committee." Here we are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and politicians are attacking the only voice for working people in this country.

The idea that unions are somehow responsible for destroying our economy is absurd. The Labor Movement has been the most outspoken critic against all of the things that actually did cause this crisis: bad free trade agreements that harmed all workers, unfair lending practices that resulting in millions of families losing their homes, unrestrained corporate greed that rewarded CEOs for mass layoffs and the offshoring of jobs.

The Labor Movement has been the leading force to extend unemployment benefits to the millions of laid off workers and their families who depend on them. We are fighting to stop the attacks on Social Security, the most effective anti-poverty program we have in this country. Most important, the Labor Movement stands for the idea that every working person deserves to be treated fairly at work, get decent wages, and have dignity in retirement.

We want the American Dream to be realized not just by the wealthy but by those who build bridges (like my dad) and who teach the next generation of students (like my mom). We believe construction workers, delivery drivers, hotel workers, janitors, grocery clerks, truckdrivers, homecare attendants, and cafeteria workers should make enough money to take care of their families and not have to depend on public assistance or charity.

When these workers get together to demand a decent wage for their work, they are raising wages for all workers in that industry and in that community. When they are able to get health care through the job, they are setting standards that benefit all workers, making it less likely that they will have to rely on public programs or emergency rooms. This is how the middle class in this country was built.

When workers have secure retirement, they don't have to face the shame of relying on their children in their old age. AFSCME represents 1.6 million public employees across the country -- and their members have an average pension of just $19,000 per year. No one is getting rich or living high on the hog, but maybe that's just enough that their retirees can stay in their homes, provide food and necessities, and still afford birthday presents for their grandchildren. After 30 years on the job, don't we all deserve that?

Not only do union wages and benefits raise community standards, but they directly help the economy. A city street-cleaning worker who makes a decent wage can afford to spend more at Safeway, allowing Safeway to hire more workers, who are able to take the family out to dinner once a month. A construction worker paid prevailing wage on a public works project can afford to buy a home, increasing property taxes to the community. This is the multiplier effect of good union jobs, whether public or private.

It wasn't that long ago that public employees were among the lowest paid workers in the nation. Martin Luther King Jr spent one of his last days in Memphis with striking sanitation workers to highlight the injustices they had to endure without collective bargaining rights. So what's changed? Private sector workers have suffered devastating losses. Good jobs sent overseas, industry wage standards degraded by deregulation, once secure pensions lost to corporate malfeasance. The problem we face today isn't that public employees have too much, it’s that private sector workers have too little.

I have a poster on my wall of that Memphis sanitation workers protest. The picket signs say "I am a man." Really, that's what the Labor Movement is about. Recognizing the dignity of every person. Rewarding hard work.Realizing the dream of economic security and a better future for your kids.

The politicians seeking to strip workers rights say it will stimulate investment. But all that means is a race to the bottom where companies jump from state to state, country to country, seeking the lowest wages. A better way to attract companies to relocate is with good schools, a skilled workforce, reliable infrastructure, and a modern transportation system. But all of that requires an investment in the people who do the work and apparently that's not something these politicians believe in.

On one of his last nights on this earth, Martin Luther King Jr faced thousands of black men in the South, striking City sanitation workers, who were putting their jobs and their lives on the line. He said to those gathered "either we go up together, or we go down together."

Today, as unemployment mounts, as foreclosures soar, as working families are forced to rely on food banks, and one in four California kids don't have enough to eat, the truth is now as it was then. Either we go up together or we go down together. Thanks to the Labor Movement, we are all in this together -- and together, we will find the way out.


Caitlin Vega is a Legislative Advocate for the California Labor Federation, representing 2.1 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries.

The NLRA guarantees the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, and to engage in
other protected concerted activity. Employees covered by the NLRA* are protected from certain types of employer and
union misconduct. This Notice gives you general information about your rights, and about the obligations of employers
and unions under the NLRA. Contact the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal agency that investigates and
resolves complaints under the NLRA, using the contact information supplied below, if you have any questions about
specific rights that may apply in your particular workplace.
Under the NLRA, you have the right to:

• Organize a union to negotiate with your employer concerning your wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of
• Form, join or assist a union.
• Bargain collectively through representatives of employees’ own choosing for a contract with your employer setting your
wages, benefits, hours, and other working conditions.
• Discuss your terms and conditions of employment or union organizing with your co-workers or a union.
• Take action with one or more co-workers to improve your working conditions by, among other means, raising work-related
complaints directly with your employer or with a government agency, and seeking help from a union.
• Strike and picket, depending on the purpose or means of the strike or the picketing.
• Choose not to do any of these activities, including joining or remaining a member of a union.

Under the NLRA, it is illegal for your employer to:
• Prohibit you from soliciting for a union during non-work time,
such as before or after work or during break times; or from
distributing union literature during non-work time, in non-work
areas, such as parking lots or break rooms.
• Question you about your union support or activities in a
manner that discourages you from engaging in that
• Fire, demote, or transfer you, or reduce your hours or
change your shift, or otherwise take adverse action against
you, or threaten to take any of these actions, because you
join or support a union, or because you engage in concerted
activity for mutual aid and protection, or because you choose
not to engage in any such activity.
• Threaten to close your workplace if workers choose a
union to represent them.
• Promise or grant promotions, pay raises, or other benefits
to discourage or encourage union support.
• Prohibit you from wearing union hats, buttons, t-shirts, and
pins in the workplace except under special circumstances.
• Spy on or videotape peaceful union activities and
gatherings or pretend to do so.