Should labor organizing become a civil right?

Democrats in Congress have put forth a bill that would make union organizing a “fundamental right”. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and John Lewis of Georgia, want to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to make labor organizing a civil right. They reason that the law should aid workers in joining unions as a way to fight against unfair treatment from employers. It is expected that this new law would make employees much more able in bringing claims against their employers and it would boost waning union membership. However some experts think that the right for union is already protected and this new law would allow union representatives to compel workers to join.

At the moment, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives most private-sector employees the right to unionize. Exceptions to the NLRA are public-sector employees, agricultural workers, domestic workers, independent contractors, workers employed by a parent or a spouse, employees covered by the Railway Labor Act and supervisors.

While large businesses have nothing to fear from unions, historically small businesses were the ones that were most affected by such efforts. It’s important to take an active role in knowing these new changes so that you don’t break any national labor laws.

Worker rights

Federal law gives your employees the right to form organizations and advance their interests as employees. Because of this, an employer cannot prohibit employees from exercising their rights. This means that you cannot threaten, interrogate or spy on employees that are acting together in advancing their interests. What interests are these exactly? Better wages, more benefits, better hours, refusal to work in unsafe conditions and so on.

Union campaigns

During union campaigns, representatives are allowed to visit the workplaces to gather signatures and distribute pro-union media however they cannot interrupt work activity. Therefore, as an employer, you have the right to deny any non-employee union representative access to the work premises (if public access is also restricted) and prevent distribution of any pro-union materials during work hours. However, as an employer you cannot “bribe” employers with more benefits or threaten them with termination for engaging in unions. You also cannot prohibit an employee from wearing union paraphernalia such as pins, stickers or t-shirts.

Talk to your workers about union efforts

While you cannot interrogate an employee about his or his colleague’s engagement in union activities or sympathies, employers have the right to make their position known on union matters. You are allowed to tell your employees what you think about union policies, why they might not be ideal and how they can affect your business negatively.

Business owners have to be very careful to not violate labor laws now that there is a strong support for workers right to unionize. To prevent any unpleasant surprises it’s best that you consult an attorney that specializes in employment law.

If this new law passes, it doesn’t look too good for businesses out there. This isn’t about freedom of workers to organize but to extract more dues. We believe that this new avenue is more of a license to commit extortion rather than give people a “fundamental right”. For all the freedoms that everybody is clamoring for, people are forgetting that there would be no unions without businesses in the first place.

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