THE BLOG
02/09/2011 04:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Changing the Rules for Workers

It's no surprise that Republicans and their corporate allies are up to their old games. Or, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, "There they go again!" Having successfully blocked congressional efforts to strengthen the right of workers to organize a union, they now want to stop workers from learning their rights under weak existing labor law.

Today the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is more valuable in theory than in practice. The law gives American workers the right to join a labor union and lists illegal labor practices. Yet structural weaknesses and unscrupulous employer behavior have eviscerated the law. Employers knowingly violate the law since penalties are a joke, at best. They brazenly break organizing drives by intimidating employees and firing workers who lead the organizing effort and if caught, all the law requires of the employer is to pay the dismissed workers the difference between what they would have earned with the company minus what they earned in their next job after being fired. Employers happily risk such a cheap penalty - which averages $5,000 -- to the possibility of having to increase everyone's wages.

For years now, the Democrats in Congress have tried to end this abuse by enacting legislation --the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- which would allow workers to join a union by signing a membership card, just like joining any other organization. The EFCA would also require the employer to recognize and bargain with the union if a majority of the workers signed up. Republicans and Big Business have fought vigorously to prevent the bill from ever coming up for a vote.

Meanwhile the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has sought to address a small part of the problem by eliminating one obstacle, the lack of information regarding workers' right to organize. The NLRB has proposed a simple rule that would require employers to post a notice telling workers about their existing rights under the NLRA, just as they must post notices on minimum wage, health, safety, and equal employment opportunity rights. It would neither address the weaknesses in the law nor expand rights under current law. It would simply provide employees with information about their current rights.

Needless to say, Republicans and Corporate America are having a hissy fit and lobbying against it, just as they fought EFCA and every other attempt to help workers stand together. The Chamber of Commerce lobby is not content to prevent workers from having real collective bargaining protection; they want to keep workers ignorant of the minimal rights they currently possess.

They claim that the NLRB, which would be responsible for enforcement, lacks authority to create such a rule. The truth is that the National Labor Relations Act authorizes the Board of the NLRB to create "rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act". (29 U.S.C. 156) Court decisions have made clear that the NLRB has the authority. This claim is simply an attempt to keep workers in the dark.

The NLRB will be accepting comments on this proposed rule until February 22, 2011. Now is the time to stand up to Big Business and educate workers about their rights.