Labor Union Coalition Challenges to Governmental Action: Defending the Civil Rights of Law-Wage Workers

Source: Maria Ontiveros, University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 2009 (forthcoming)

From the the abstract:
The article examines international and domestic legal challenges filed by traditional labor unions, in coalition with others, against the government of the Unites States of America. The article argues that these lawsuits can help protect the civil rights of low-wage workers by creating a coherent legal theory defending the civil rights of low-wage workers and by creating an identifiable change agent to work on that defense. The lawsuits include those challenging governmental action with respect to immigrant workers, airport security screeners, social security no-match letters and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raids.

The article examines how the exclusion of low-wage workers from current constitutional and statutory protections has resulted in the lack of a coherent legal theory protecting their civil rights. It also discusses the lack of a national, collectively-based, institutional change agent devoted to protecting low-wage workers. Citing social movement theory, and applying it to lawyering for social change and labor union theory, the article argues that both are necessary to be effective. The article describes international lawsuits filed under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the International Labor Organization and describes how they are establishing a coherent legal theory based on a list of fundamental labor rights for North American workers and the concept of labor rights as human rights. On the domestic side, the article examines various constitutional claims brought against the government on behalf of low-wage workers and argues that the Thirteenth Amendment should be considered a useful umbrella for unifying these claims. Finally, the article describes how this type of advocacy is transforming the role of traditional labor unions.

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