Protections needed for workers who unionize

From International Labor Communications Association

Lynn Wang, a reporter for the Chinese Daily News, and her co-workers decided to come together in a union to win a voice in working conditions after losing overtime pay, job security and important benefits.

When the company found out about their union activity, it immediately brought in a 'consultant' whose sole purpose was to thwart the workers' efforts. Workers came under strict and constant physical and video surveillance. Worse yet, the Chinese Daily News fired two union supporters and disciplined many others for standing up for their rights. Workers filed unfair-labor-practice charges, but hearings into the complaints didn't happen until three years later. This egregious violation of workers' rights didn't take place in Beijing, Shanghai or a neighboring Chinese province. It happened here in Southern California, in Monterey Park.

In the United States, more than 20,000 workers have been fired or discriminated against this year alone for union activities, according to a National Labor Relations Board annual report. That amounts to a worker in this country being fired or discriminated against every 23 minutes for exercising the basic human right to form or join a union.

Workers at the Chinese Daily News faced an onslaught of harassment, intimidation and coercion from company managers such as forced weekly meetings against the union and one-on-one interrogations. Some meetings were scheduled late at night in order to punish the workers. If workers were not working that day, they were still required to attend, with no pay. In all, workers have filed more than 50 complaints against the Chinese Daily News for violating their legal rights during their organizing struggle.

Despite all these almost insurmountable obstacles, the 150 workers at the Chinese Daily News so badly wanted to have a union that a majority of the employees voted to organize with the Communications Workers of America in an NLRB election. The employer appealed the election result.

The NLRB is so overloaded and slow that three years after the election the workers are still waiting for a decision. When the hearing started, the administrative law judge opened by apologizing to the workers, saying: 'Justice delayed is justice denied.' But still no decisions have been rendered.

While workers wait, they continue to be berated and harassed for their continued quest for union representation. Federal legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act aims to eliminate many of these barriers by offering alternatives to the delay-prone and contentious NLRB election process and allowing workers to form a union by majority sign-up.

California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are co-sponsors of this legislation, along with 35 other senators and 209 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Employee Free Choice Act would strengthen protections for workers' freedom to form unions by requiring employers to recognize the union after workers sign cards authorizing union representation, by providing for mediation and arbitration of first- contract disputes and authorizing stronger penalties for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first-contract negotiations.

No one should be denied those basic protections granted to him or her under U.S. law. The California delegation to Congress and our governor should stand with workers by supporting urgently needed legislation so workers can form a union to improve their lives, free from fear, intimidation or retaliation.

--John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO.

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