Gathering Place
Harold Dias Jr.

Workers’ right
to unionize needs
further protection

As we celebrate our nation's independence next week, we should keep in mind one freedom that tens of thousands of Americans are denied each year -- the freedom to improve their lives through membership in a labor union.

July 5 marks the 70th anniversary of the National Labor Relations Act -- commonly known as the Wagner Act -- which supposedly guarantees working people the chance to form unions freely.

Yet, abuse of workers' rights is so rampant in the United States that we've made it on the radar of Human Rights Watch -- an internationally recognized organization that monitors basic human rights. That organization says it's so bad for workers in this country that we're out of compliance with fundamental human rights norms.

Unfortunately, employers routinely violate workers' freedom to choose a union, and the laws are too weak to stop them.

Nationwide, more than 57 million workers in America say they would form a union tomorrow to improve their lives. However, some employers do just about anything to stop them. For example, 95 percent of employers try to stop their workers from forming a union, according to Cornell University researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner, and a quarter of them have fired workers illegally .

In fact, more than 20,000 workers were fired or discriminated against in 2004 alone for exercising their right to freedom of association in the workplace, according to National Labor Relations Board annual reports. That amounts to a worker in this country being fired or discriminated against every 23 minutes for trying to exercise this basic human right.

That is why we need to urge lawmakers to support the Employee Free Choice Act. This bipartisan federal legislation would ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decides to form a union, they can do so without the grueling obstacles employers now use to block workers' free choice.

U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.) and Arlen Specter (R, Pa.) and Reps. George Miller (D, Calif.) and Peter King (R, N.Y.) introduced this legislation into the 109th Congress. We are appreciative that the members of Hawaii's entire congressional delegation also have signed on as co-sponsors.

Workers should have the right to make their own choices about forming a union, without interference from management. When employers violate the right of workers to form a union, everyone suffers. Our basic constitutional freedoms are compromised. Wages fall, race and gender pay gaps widen, and workplace discrimination increases and job safety standards disappear. Labor unions are the best tool we have for fighting poverty and bringing about social justice.

As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Wagner Act, it is time that elected leaders on both sides of the aisle come together to find real solutions that ensure workers actually receive the protection that the authors of this legislation originally intended.

Harold Dias, Jr. is president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO.

| | |
E-mail to Editorial Page Editor


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com