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Here's my wish for this Labor Day - that someone Democrat in Congress would introduce a proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, to protect the rights of working class Americans to try to get a better deal from their employers.

The "Right to Bargain" amendment would be short  - just two sentences. And here's what it would say:

"The right of employees to bargain collectively with their employer shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
That's it. With that amendment in place, no state could pass a law telling certain workers that they can't join a union. No state could prohibit unions from trying to negotiate a better deal for its members. This amendment wouldn't force union membership on anyone, and it wouldn't force employers to accept what a union asked. All it would do is say that elected officials can't tell working Americans that they can't even try to get a better deal for themselves.

Follow me below the squiggle to read why that's so important.

After-tax profits of U.S. corporations have exploded since 2003. After dropping precipitously during the last recession, corporate profits have come roaring back since 2009, rising to all-time record levels in the past year. And yet, unemployment remains stuck over 8 percent, and hourly wages for workers have remained flat since the 1970s, once you adjust for inflation.

If companies aren't hiring people, and they aren't paying their existing workers more, just what the heck's happening with all those billions and billions of extra dollars that U.S. companies are earning?

The only way that money "trickles down" in an economy is if employees bargain together to try to force their employers to share some of that extra money, instead of keeping it all for fat cats in charge. That's what a union does. Without a union, an employer can offer as little as it wants and tell prospective employees to "take it or leave it." So long as someone out there is desperate enough to take that crappy deal, employers can get away with offering them. Only when the workers come together does the math change. Instead of one company pitting thousands of workers against each other to keep wages low, a union allows all those workers to negotiate with the company at once, greatly improving their chances of getting a better deal.

Unions - not companies - gave us weekends, eight-hour working days, and living wages for middle-class workers. Union-supported politicians put some of these principles into law, but we'd never had have laws against child labor or protecting safe working conditions if it hadn't been for workers coming together in unions, with many workers suffering, and even dying for the cause along the way.

If we're ever going to see America's profits shared with American workers again, American workers are going to have to come together to demand their fair share. At the very least, government ought not stand in their way.

We need the "Right to Bargain" amendment to protect the right of American workers to demand their fair share of the money they make for their employers, and the value they provide to all of us.

So while the barbecues and the day off are nice, that's what I'd really like to see to help us all celebrate this Labor Day.

First published at my blog, Sensible Talk.

Originally posted to Robert Niles on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Cue the cries of communism. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and the screams of "forcing workers to pay union dues" by Rethugs.

    Of course, strong unions lead to a good counterbalance to corporate money... which the Rethugs have been trying to erode since Saint Ronnie.

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:27:16 PM PDT

  •  Wonderful idea. It will be a long haul, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of course, to get it actually done. But if we start now ...

  •  We have a right to bargain. It's included in (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DerAmi, Steve in the Library

    the right to associate.
    However, the Constitution, including the amendments, addresses the behavior of agents of government, whom we pay to carry out directives and, if they don't, we fire.
    Your beef is with employers who deal with their employees unfairly. If they are artificial entities, incorporated according to state law, fairness can be a condition of their charter and failure to deal fairly could be punished by terminating their charter, after a due process procedure. Terminating the enterprise would, of course, leave everyone out of a job, so the coercive powers of the state are obviously inadequate.
    What we can do and have done is compensate the employees of unfair employers. But, that's not working real well. What we need to do with unfair people, exploiters, is shun them and make sure the laws don't advantage them, as they now do.  For that we need trustworthy legislators.  Which we don't have, but can get in November.

    Keep your eyes on the legislators.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Sun Sep 02, 2012 at 11:57:37 PM PDT

    •  The 13th Amendment (0+ / 0-)

      clearly applied to non-governmental behavior.  The 14th creates a duty for government to 'protect' people'e rights (including against private actors.)

      FWIW, I think this idea would be strengthened if it borrowed the language of equal protection - requiring states and the federal government to protect the rights of all persons to collectively bargain.

      What we can do and have done is compensate the employees of unfair employers. But, that's not working real well.
      I'm not sure that's true. Civil rights laws create a right to bring suit and win damages, and this has been quite effective (not perfectly, certainly but still powerful). We could do the same thing with respect to labor rights.

      Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity. Notes on a Theory

      by David Kaib on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 09:10:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It still frustrates me (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that after all the blood, sweat and tears that make up the history of the labor movement; that after so many died so that we would benefit from fair wages, safe work conditions, adequate laws to protect the rights of workers, there are still so many citizens, who do not even know the history of labor, nor seemingly do they care.

    It blows my mind that ignorance pervades the work force; that the very people who benefit from what organized labor has done, are often anti union.  And some seem perplexed and unable to comprehend that labor as organized by uniting is the reason a middle class grew and prospered.

    I do not get it.  I have people in my own family who literally hate unions and use every urban legend they can find to defend the rights of the CEO's to whatever they want that will hurt labor.  

    It is a sad commentary on our society that greed, and self serving libertarian thinking dominate so many in our society and that the utter ignorance of people blind them from seeing that our survival is rooted in the ability of the people to work as communities, including the right to organize and bargain.

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