Countries at risk: 2013 Report on Violations of Trade Union Rights

Source: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), 2013

…The ITUC is responding to violations of trade union rights wherever they occur. Trade unions in a number of countries are under extreme risk and thus the ITUC is engaged in a comprehensive and intensive campaign to support their struggle for fundamental rights. Severe attacks on trade unions in Burma/Myanmar, Fiji, Georgia, Guatemala, Bahrain, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have put the existence of trade unions and democratic institutions at extreme risk. Political, trade, corporate and organising campaigns are taking place in these countries. National and international mechanisms are used to achieve changes in law and policy. As a result, the Georgian government is currently reforming its labour code to realise freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. This will allow the Georgian Trade Union Confederation to organise and protect more workers. The Federation of Trade Unions-Myanmar organised more than 18,000 new members within 6 months and the government of Guatemala is now engaging with the ITUC to agree on a comprehensive reform package to improve trade union rights. Nevertheless, major challenges and difficulties remain which are highlighted in the following section in more detail….

…United States:

Prohibition of demonstrations:
Workers in the U.S. are restricted in their ability to engage in picketing and other forms of protest on employers’ property. The law also prohibits secondary picketing and limits picketing which has the object of organising workers or obtaining recognition from the employer. In January 2013, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and its community affiliate, Our Walmart, which had engaged in nationwide demonstrations at Walmart stores protesting about the retaliatory action taken against Walmart workers who had spoken out for better pay, fair schedules and affordable health care, had to disavow any intent to represent Walmart workers and promise not to picket for a period of 60 days to forestall the government from going to court to obtain an injunction to stop the demonstrations

Prohibition of publications:
Under U.S. law unions have no right to maintain their own bulletin boards in employer workplaces and the employer is not required to allow the union to post notices on its bulletin boards unless it permits workers to use the bulletin boards to post other, non-work-related material. Employers may also establish rules prohibiting the distribution of union literature in work areas, even if the employer itself distributes materials in those areas. Although workers generally have the right to distribute news and leaflets in non-work areas, these rights are frequently violated during union organising campaigns

Exclusion of workers from the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining:
In the private sector, managerial and supervisory employees, independent contractors and domestic workers have no right to form or join a union, nor do agricultural workers except in a small number of states. These excluded categories of workers constitute approximately 15 per cent of the private sector workforce. In the public sector, workers cannot be prevented from or punished for forming or joining organisations of their own choosing, including unions. However, as noted below, more than 7 million federal, state and local government employees, representing more than a third of the public sector workforce, do not have the right to bargain collectively —an essential corollary of the right to form unions.

Employers threaten workers who want to join unions:
A recent academic study found that in 57 per cent of the campaigns surveyed, workers were threatened that their workplace would shut down if they chose to be represented by a union, and that in 47 per cent of campaigns they were threatened with a loss of wages or benefits. 64 per cent of campaign workers were interrogated about how they and other workers were going to vote and 14 per cent were put under surveillance by their employer. To intimidate workers, 21 per cent of employers called in police to do walkthroughs in the work place, and 14 per cent bring in security guards or put up security fencing. Most egregiously, workers were dismissed in 34 per cent of the campaigns.

Employers refuse to bargain with representative unions:
Under U.S. law, even after a majority of workers have voted for union representation, an employer can challenge the results of the election by refusing to bargain and thereby obtaining a court review of the election. Employers commonly use this tactic in first contract situations to delay bargaining even
where there is no meritorious basis for challenging the election results.