BY BRUCE VAIL
JUL 31, 2014
On Wednesday, a handful of Democratic Party lawmakers introduced a bill to turn the slogan “Labor Rights are Civil Rights” into the law of the land. While admitting the proposed legislation has little chance of passage in the current anti-labor environment, supporters say they hope shifting political winds may favor the bill sometime in the future.
A civil right is any right enshrined in the Constitution or legislation, such as freedom of assembly or freedom of the press. The new measure would affirm that labor rights are equally fundamental.
Titled the “Employee Empowerment Act,” the bill is short and simple. It would add a single paragraph to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act giving workers the right to sue employers in federal court for labor law violations, in the same way that individuals are allowed to bring lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under current law, workers must bring such complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which is often criticized for being very slow to act and offering wronged workers little in the way of compensation.
The bill’s introduction was announced yesterday at a press conference on the Capitol Hill lawn headlined by three of the most pro-labor members of the House of Representatives: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y).
Pooja Bhatia - July 14, 2014
After decades of losing members, legislative defeats and a declining return on labor, American unions have stopped looking within for the answer.
Now they’re looking to you.
Once focused mostly on the narrow goals of its members, unions of late have sought to spark broader civic movements. Big unions like the SEIU are funding groups like OUR Walmart and Fight for 15, which advocate for workers’ rights — though not many Wal-Mart or fast-food workers seem to show up at their demonstrations. Others are taking workers’ battles up the supply chain — in some cases, all the way to Wall Street, whose banks they accuse of charging employers predatory fees. And some unions have found creative ways to enlist parents and citizens in their battles, so that when contract negotiations roll around, they’re armed with reinforcements and can’t be easily labeled as greedy.
Call these methods hacks, call them alt-labor, call them workarounds: They all aim at getting labor out of the corner that it says it’s been painted into for the past 40 years.
By most accounts, organized labor in the United States has been on the outs for decades. Last week’s Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn, chipped away at a cornerstone of union operations — agency fees — and though the decision was narrow, the Court signaled it’d take a wrecking ball to the whole edifice if given the chance. Many in the labor movement had been preparing for worse.