Union memberships increasing
Have you heard this one? The federal government says your boss can tell you not to talk with your co-workers when you're off duty. Can you imagine not being able to say "hi" to your co-workers at the local coffee shop or department store? The idea of a backyard BBQ for friends and co-workers just got a lot more complicated.
In a Big-Brother ruling that is a slap in the face to American workers, the National Labor Relations Board issued its decision this summer that a boss can direct employees not to "fraternize on duty or off duty."
It's a sad fact that our Constitution's Bill of Rights that govern our civic life has never been applied inside the workplace. In other words, your freedom of speech and association has been suspended at the employer's door. Organized labor has always questioned this lack of freedom for American workers, but so far the federal government has kept the workplace "off limits" for free speech and free association.
Now, the federal government apparently wants to make American workers' rights of free association and free speech "off limits" off the job too.
The Republican majority on the labor board argued that workers would simply interpret the ruling as a ban on dating. The lone dissenter on the board pointed out that workers would understand that the ban on off-duty "fraternization" would also apply to the freedom to associate with co-workers to form a union.
The majority of the board members must think American workers are just too stupid to get the message.
Despite the recent "doom and gloom" media coverage of organized labor, it's important for workers in Washington state to understand that union membership is actually increasing here. Unions in our state are working on new ways to reach out to workers who need the higher wages and decent health care benefits that a union brings. We have seen an increase of more than 50,000 new union members in Washington over the last couple of years. But it's hard to organize new members in an anti-union political climate.
That's why labor supports passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (S. 842 and H.R. 1696) by Congress. This bipartisan bill would strengthen protections for workers who want to join a union. It would restore American's right to freely associate with and speak to union advocates. The labor relations board ruling would become irrelevant.
Earlier this year a survey of non-union workers by Peter D. Hart research found 53 percent said they'd vote to join a union. That is the highest level of support for unions since the poll began asking the question more than twenty years go.
Rick Bender is president of the Washington State Labor Council, the largest labor organization in the state.