by Paul Guequierre
If you’re like me, you’re sitting at your desk on a Tuesday morning after a nice three-day weekend. Perhaps you enjoyed a nice cookout or two, went to a party, or spent the last unofficial weekend of summer finalizing your tan before fall and then winter take us by storm. It was a great weekend. But as readers of ACSblog, you know the last three days of leisure didn’t come without the blood, sweat and tears of the labor movement.
The Tuesday after Labor Day weekend is the perfect time to reflect on what labor unions have done for us, and perhaps even more importantly, what we can now do for labor unions as they face attack after attack by the right-wing. From Scott Walker to Harris v. Quinn, the labor movement is in the middle of a political firestorm, on one front fending off the attacks, and on the other, continuing to fight for fair and just workplaces, livable wages and safe working environments.
This summer, the Supreme Court dealt yet another blow, but not a death knell, to labor unions in Harris v. Quinn. With worker’s rights and the guarantee of a fair workplace under siege, the Supreme Court ruled on the First Amendment as applied to union dues, examining the right to collective bargaining by low-wage homecare workers. The potential impact on labor unions as a result of the decision could be harmful. But workers who depend on fair labor standards and workplace practices to earn a living are fighting back. In Minnesota home health care workers, for example, took the first step in their push for higher wages and benefits, seeking a union election for about 26,000 personal care attendants. Union officials said it could be one of the largest organizing drives in state history.
Elsewhere, just this week, the Associated Press is reporting that McDonald’s, Wendy’s and other fast-food restaurants are expected to be targeted with acts of civil disobedience that could lead to arrests Thursday as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry’s workers. To date, corporate giants have resisted low-wage fast food workers’ attempts to unionize. With a total disregard for the well-being of workers and their families, the National Restaurant Association has gone so far as to say that the fast-food protests are attempts by unions “to boost their dwindling membership.” But when it comes to the fast food industry, workers their unions are on to something.
Earlier this summer, the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) General Counsel announced that his office would prosecute McDonald’s USA, LLC for unfair labor practices committed by its franchisees (i.e., the individual restaurants not owned by the corporation, which is most of them). That means that the NLRB may hold McDonald’s liable if its nominally “independent” franchisees interfere with or retaliate against workers who try to form unions, strike, or demand better pay or working conditions. In a guest post for ACSblog, Michael Scimone, Associate, Outten & Golden LLP calls the GC’s move an effort to apply common sense to an all-too-common legal dodge.
Labor unions have been there to ensure fair and safe workplaces for years. Whether it is low-wage home healthcare or fast food workers, teachers, or municipal workers, unions have flexed their muscles when workers haven’t been able to. The labor movement is responsible for many workplace non-discrimination policies, including for LGBT workers where the law lags behind. As Jerame Davis, Executive Director at Pride at Work notes in a guest blog post for the Human Rights Campaign, “[W]oven throughout the history of America’s working men and women is the history of LGBT labor. The common struggle of the LGBT community and the Labor Movement goes back to at least the 1930s, when the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards (NUMCS) elected a vice president, Stephen Blair, who was openly gay. The union was derided as, “red, black, and queer” for their strong liberal views and embrace of minority rights.”
On May 1, 1886, 7,000 building-trades workers joined with 5,000 Polish laborers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to strike against their employers, demanding an eight-hour work day. As the crowd grew over the course of less than a week, the National Guard was called in and seven people, including a thirteen-year-old boy, were killed.
Blood has been shed and lives lost. And because of it, we are sitting at our desks on a Tuesday morning after a long weekend of cookouts, swimming pools, and parties.
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