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July 6, 2005

Take Action to Restore Workers' Rights To Unionize

July Marks the 70th Anniversary of the Wagner Act

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act (also called the Wagner Act, for its chief sponsor Sen. Robert Wagner of New York). This legislation was a breakthrough in allowing workers to form unions freely and bargain collectively.

Key provisions of the act made it illegal for employers to:

  • Interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in their efforts to form, join or assist labor organizations;
  • Discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee because he or she has supported a union or filed charges or given testimony under the Act; and
  • Refuse to bargain collectively.

But today, each of these provisions is violated routinely.

Here are some facts:

  • 92 percent of private-sector employers force employees to attend mandatory closed-door meetings against the union.
  • 51 percent of private-sector companies threaten to close their facilities if workers win their union.
  • 25 percent of private-sector employers illegally fire workers during organizing campaigns.
  • 45 percent of private-sector employers do not agree to a first contract within two years.

The law originally intended to protect workers' rights has been become the opposite. Anti-worker amendments (especially the notorious Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947), pro-business Supreme Court decisions and pro-employer National Labor Relations Boards (NLRBs) have stripped away the Wagner Act's protections.

While 57 million workers say they would vote to form a union tomorrow if given the chance, only 80,000 actually did so through the NLRB election process last year. In other words, the government's process for handling union representation is meeting only slightly more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the demand.

Because our labor laws are so broken, most workers who form unions today do so outside the National Labor Relations Act process. They ask their employers to agree to majority sign-up (also known as card-check) and recognize the union once a majority of workers indicates the desire for a union by signing cards or a petition.

Legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act would restore the promise of the Wagner Act by allowing all workers to benefit from this fair process for deciding on union recognition. It would avoid the grueling obstacles presented by sophisticated employer anti-union campaigns. And it would require mediation to stop employers from denying workers their unions by refusing to negotiate first contracts. The Employee Free Choice Act also would create meaningful penalties when employers interfere with workers' freedom to form unions, including triple back pay for fired workers.

Take action: Ask Congress to restore workers' rights to form unions:

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