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Resolution: Workers' Rights and Labor Law Reform

Resolution # 77A-19-05

Workers’ Rights and Labor Law Reform

Union organizing and collective bargaining rights are basic human rights, fundamental in democratic societies for the working class to achieve economic security, win power in the workplace, and ensure that political and social institutions are not dominated by greed and corporate interests. In every other democracy in the world, collective bargaining is a bedrock right for all, resulting in union densities of 30, 40, and even greater than 50 percent.

However, labor law in the United States is a broken patchwork of state laws, court decisions, and federal legislation. Tens of millions of U.S. workers have no formal access to bargaining rights. The centerpiece of this legal hodgepodge, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), has been reduced to a shell of its former self, and discriminatory exclusions of domestic workers, farmworkers, and public sector workers from the NLRA—exclusions rooted in the legacies of slavery, the defeat of Reconstruction, and Jim Crow apartheid—have been maintained up to the present day. In the United States, bargaining rights are only possible if workers are able to win long, exhausting fights against this rigged system, one workplace at a time.

Over the past 50 years, corporate executives and wealthy investors, with the support of bought-and-paid-for politicians and the courts, have waged a systematic campaign against the worker power that comes from collective bargaining. The Chamber of Commerce’s strategic offensive launched in the 1970s to dial back union gains, Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers in the 1980s, the deregulation of telecommunications, trucking, airlines, and other industries, bad trade deals that have off-shored millions of jobs, and the virulent employer assault in almost every workplace in which unorganized workers attempt to organize have all contributed to a decline in union density from 35 percent to 6 percent in the private sector. Having decimated private sector union density, corporate political forces have accelerated their assault on public sector unions with rollbacks of public worker collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and elsewhere, court challenges to fair share fee payments, and payroll deception bills. Today only 11 percent of workers in the combined public and private sectors have access to collective bargaining and a union voice.

Productivity has increased dramatically in recent decades, but because they have successfully weakened unions, the CEOs and investors have been able to keep the economic benefits of that increased productivity for themselves. The result? Declining working conditions, wage stagnation, and some of the most extreme economic inequity in history.

The dominance of the financial sector in our economy has further fractured workplaces in our core industries. The single-minded focus on corporate profit as a measure of success has led to massive job cuts, increased reliance on low-wage and overseas contractors and freelancers, a two-tier system of subsidiaries and regional airline carriers, and privatization of public services. Not only do contract workers earn lower wages, receive fewer benefits, and work unreliable hours, outdated assumptions about the structure of the workplace that are baked into the NLRA and the Railway Labor Act mean that contract workers have fewer labor and employment law protections than “traditional” employees.

The erosion of labor law and the concentration of corporate power also means that corporate executives spend millions on consultants who specialize in intimidating workers who want to join together for union representation. These union busters take full advantage of our weak labor laws and lax enforcement, and view violating workers’ fundamental human rights as a minor cost of doing business.

But, working people have boundless creativity and we have undertaken innovative experiments to build organizations to strengthen worker power, which include promoting workers’ centers based in specific ethnic communities, industries, and geographies; building non-majority and pre-majority worker organizations; and the use of community benefit agreements and local legislative efforts to raise minimum standards. In CWA we have a proud history of such experimentation, and as an organizing union we have time and again stood side-by-side with not-yet-organized workers, one day longer, each day stronger as they face workplace intimidation from employers.

Resolved: CWA commits to hold elected officials accountable to working people by mobilizing to elect federal, state, and local candidates in the 2020 elections and beyond who are committed to the fight for organizing and collective bargaining rights. 

Resolved: CWA will continue to push for real labor law reform, one that guarantees collective bargaining for everyone, and improves on the current legal framework by encouraging sectoral bargaining that allows all workers in an industry to bargain collectively over conditions at work. Real labor law reform also means working for legislation that strengthens worker protections and guarantees effective enforcement; expands statutory coverage to all workers; broadens joint employer definitions and liability; provides first contract mediation with binding arbitration; requires employer neutrality in organizing campaigns and establishes majority sign-up as the democratic process for union organizations at work; eliminates so-called “right to work laws;” permits fair share fee arrangements; bans the use of permanent striker replacements; allows the use of secondary boycotts; and provides strong remedies and increased penalties against violators. 

Resolved: CWAwill continue to pursue strategic partnerships with allies and new worker formations; strengthen our own innovative organizing efforts in the wireless industry, the public sector, higher education, the financial sector, the media industry, and other sectors; close the gap in the airline industry; leverage government procurement to raise standards in federal contracting and public purchasing for manufacturing; and push pro-worker agreements, ordinances, regulations, legislation and executive orders at the state and local level around such issues as wireless small cell and 5G deployment, public infrastructure projects, and publicly-funded call center operations. 

Resolved: CWA will conduct systematic analysis of changes in the employment structures in our core industries and opportunities in emerging sectors to inform CWA’s 21st century strategic organizing and worker empowerment program.

Resolved: CWA will continue to educate and spread our messages that workers’ rights are human rights; that, without the power of collective bargaining, the balance is skewed toward the employer; and that social and economic justice in the workplace and society are paramount to maintaining functional democracies.