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Unions and Worker’s Rights

Unions and Workers’ Rights have completely redefined the American workplace over the last eighty years. Before Unions existed, many workers were taken advantage of by being forced to work under harsh conditions, long hours, and so on. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935 was established to protect workers by protecting their right to unionize. Under the law, employers could ask employees not to unionize, but they were disallowed from using coercive tactics, such as threatening to fire the employee, reduce wages, or hold back a promotion. The law also established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to enforce the NLRA, and the organization continues to influence work conditions and the way that unions operate to this day.

Once unions were established, groups of workers were in a much better position to demand better working conditions, increased pay, and other sensible benefits. Not only do groups have more clout, but unions that are unhappy with their work are able to strike. When a union decides to hold a strike, the union members do not go into work until their employers meet and strike a deal with union leaders.

This powerful tool continues to help workers enjoy better working lives, as a study by the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) demonstrated recently that unionized workers make 15% more than non-unionized workers performing the same job function.

Slightly over a decade after the NLRA in 1947, the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) was passed in order to protect employers against unions by rendering secondary boycotts illegal. In addition to protesting passively, some unions had also made it difficult for other companies to do business with their employer.

Another twelve years later, the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 was passed in order to regulate union management. Up to that point, some union leaders had engaged in organized crime and locked in their rule. The law mandated that union members be notified of elections at least 15 days ahead of time, among other things to help ensure that unions would be run democratically.

Each leg of this long history plays a significant role in the public’s perception of labor unions. As pointed out by Lowell Peterson writing for the Huffington Post, there are three stories told about unions: of their defense of workers’ rights, of the corruption of their leaders, and of their overzealous defense of rights that leads to laziness and inefficiency. But undisputedly, these defenders of the public good, while being far from perfect, have improved the quality of life in the United States.

Additional Resources:
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – Set up in 1935 with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the board supports and enforces union rights – Cases may be filed – Workers may ask questions and find resources regarding rights and regulations affecting the workplace

What the NLRB Does Now – A comprehensive record of the NLRB’s actions, broken up by week

Black Letter National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – The entirety of the law itself, open to access with sections hyperlinked for easy navigation

Black Letter Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) – The law itself, with sections hyperlinked for easy navigation
Black Letter Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 – The piece of legislation, easily navigated

Workplace Fairness – An organization committed to informing the public about workers’ rights – Extensive database outlining laws, regulations, differences between unionized and non-unionized workforces, state laws, etc.

Recent Scuffle Between NLRB and Employers – NYTimes reports

Forced Unionization – Youtube Video provided by Fox News

Statistics on Union Membership – Provided by Bureau of Labor Statistics updated in 2011

Political Left on Anti-unionization – News Article by Salon.com on Wisconsin’s Conservative Governor

Pilots Unite and organize - CBS’ coverage of potential strike of US Airways and American Airlines – Unions in action – May, 2012

Examples of Prominent Unions:
AFL-CIO – The Union of Unions,

Change to Win – Union Organization Center

United Auto Workers – One of the largest, most famous unions in existence

National Writers’ Union