Labor relations at critical juncture in face of accelerating movement to restrict collective bargaining rights, legal scholars warn

Source: Charles Craver, Paul Secunda, CCH Labor Law Reports Insight, Issue 1699, No. 1036, Part 2, March 23, 2011

If the outpouring of protest against the Wisconsin Legislature’s controversial approval of a bill – signed into law earlier this month – that sharply curtails the collective bargaining rights of most of the state’s public sector employees is any indication, there may be a battle of epic proportions underfoot in U.S. labor relations…Amid a mounting flurry of legislative initiatives to constrain public sector bargaining rights, similar bills introduced in Indiana, Ohio and Iowa have also drawn substantial protest…

..Even if states’ efforts to sharply curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees are lawful, such actions raise questions in the eyes of some about the way democracies should function. Paul Secunda, Associate Professor of Law, Marquette University Law School, off ered fi ve reasons why he believes Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on unions is undemocratic:

– Unions are democratic organizations that provide workers a collective voice in society and in the workplace. They are a countervailing power to employers, employer organizations and governments that promote business interests at the expense of working people and fair social values.

– European societies function quite well with a much more extensive and robust public (and private) sector union voice. Despite the current problems in the European Union, they still seem to compete well globally while providing comparable if not superior wages, benefits and working conditions.

– Unions provide protections on the job beyond wages and benefits, most notably “just cause” and procedures for due process protections on the job. These are democratic principles.

– Unions helped build and sustain the middle class. Governor Walker’s proposals amount to “class warfare” in two ways: (1) fomenting intra-class warfare while (2) supporting the growth of income and wealth disparities favoring the elites in society. Note that the firefighters and police officers are excluded. This is a classic “divide and conquer” management strategy.

– Civilized societies recognize worker rights (collective bargaining) as a human right. In short, urged Secunda, this is not about the right to have a say on “benefits,” as some in the media have portrayed it — it’s about securing for workers basic human rights that international law has recognized.

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