Do International Freedom of Association Standards Apply to Public Sector Labor Relations in the United States?

Source: Lance Compa, Human Rights Review, Volume 13, Issue 3, September 2012
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Debates over labor rights as human rights usually arise at international and national levels. Labor clauses citing the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s “core labor standards” are found in free trade agreements between governments, in corporate social responsibility pledges by multinational companies, in World Bank lending agreements, in the United Nations Global Compact, and other global instruments. Complaints at the ILO or under trade agreements target national governments’ compliance with labor standards and whether or not national labor ministries meet their obligation to “effectively enforce” labor laws.

After November 2010 elections in the USA, human rights aspects of labor policy suddenly emerged at subfederal levels. Elections in many states brought a sharp turn to conservative Republican rule. In this new climate, conflicts over workers’ right took shape not at the ozone layer of high international policy, but at the oozing landfill level of local labor politics.

Governors and legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and other states moved to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, blaming their wages and benefits for budget shortfalls. A vindictive North Carolina legislature made it unlawful for public school teachers voluntarily to contribute to their union’s legislative action fund through paycheck deductions (in January 2012, a state court issued an injunction blocking the North Carolina law, saying that singling out trade unions for such a prohibition violated the state constitution’s guarantee of freedom of association)….

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