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April 2009

Why Unions Matter To Hispanics

As the economy flounders, the rights of workers have never been more imperiled

By Karla Walter
Isabelle Cardinal

STORY TOOLS

All workers have the democratic right to band together in unions, but today this freedom is under attack. In the past, the American government staunchly defended workers’ right to organize, but today workers attempting to organize a union face a Herculean task. Corporations, rather than workers, control the union election process. Union-busting campaigns based on coercion and intimidation are rampant, and too often anti-union companies violate workers’ rights. Fighting organizing efforts has become an exact science—with firms making millions by guiding corporations through the process of defeating workers who wish to have representation in the workplace.

The Employee Free Choice Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation slated for debate in Congress this year, will restore balance to the union election process and make it harder for corporations to harass workers attempting to unionize. Workers that then choose to exercise the freedom to organize will have a stronger voice on the job and be more likely to earn family-supporting wages.

Hispanics have much at a stake in the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, and not only because they are the fastest growing ethnic group in both unions and the American workforce. Unionization paves the way to the middle class. According to research by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, unionization raises Latino workers’ wages on average 17.6 percent—or about $2.60 per hour—compared to non-union Latino workers with similar characteristics. Unionized Latino workers are also 26 percentage points more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 27 percentage points more likely to have a pension plan than their non-union counterparts.

Although most workers say they would join a union if they could, less than 8 percent of the private sector workforce is unionized today, down from one-third of private sector workers in the middle of the 20th century.

Union membership rates are low because the current union election process has been corrupted. Workers attempting to organize face an undemocratic process where intimidation is raging, pro-union voices are silenced, and too often corporations violate workers’ rights.

Corporations wage sophisticated union-busting campaigns that coerce workers to vote against a union with frequent, mandatory, anti-union meetings, and one-on-one “conversations” with supervisors who pressure workers into revealing their position on unionizing and scare workers with dubious “predictions” that unionization will force the company to close its doors. This conduct is all perfectly legal. Meanwhile, pro-union employees are banned from talking to others about forming a union during work hours except when they are on break time.

Even with the legal deck stacked in their favor, corporations frequently break the law. Every 18 minutes a corporation violates a worker’s rights by illegally firing or discriminating against a worker for supporting a union, including discrimination even after a workplace has been organized, according to the back pay findings of the National Labor Relations Board. Even when the law is broken and the corporation is caught there are few consequences.

Nevertheless, workers still do successfully form unions in some workplaces. The corporate response? Often it’s to bargain with the new union in bad faith by using delay tactics and stalling the negotiation of a first contract indefinitely. According to research from the MIT Sloan School of Management, only 38 percent of unions certified through an election achieve a first contract after one year—and only 56 percent ever achieve a first contract.

The Employee Free Choice Act would restore balance to the union election process. Workers could choose to organize a union through a simple majority sign-up process, a system that works well at the small number of workplaces that choose to permit it.

The Employee Free Choice Act would also raise penalties when the law is violated, and promote good-faith bargaining through a mediation and arbitration option so that workers and employers can achieve a first contract efficiently.

In today’s tough times, it is essential that we rebuild the economy in a way that protects our basic human rights and supports fair wages for all working Americans. By passing the Employee Free Choice Act, Congress can help restore balance over the decision to organize, which will increase unionization rates and ensure that as the American economy recovers, working families are rewarded with fair, middle-class wages.

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Dirk Althouse
2010-03-01 12:24:48

I hope we are talking about legal not illegal Hispanics I am union and because of the illegals I have been unemployed for a year and three months