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Union organizing campaigns run up against the fact that labor law enforcement, wealth, and power in the workplace are all stacked against workers, and if bosses fight a union with everything at their disposal, it is damn hard for workers to win. That environment could get a lot worse, though, with the Supreme Court hearing a case this week that challenged the legality of a key organizing tool.

As Labor Notes' Jenny Brown explains:

Neutrality agreements create rules for union and employer behavior during organizing drives. Often an employer signs such an agreement only after years of targeted union pressure. The employer promises not to try to sway workers’ opinions, allowing them some breathing room when labor law is mostly on management’s side.
For their part, unions may offer the employer some promises—for instance, that they will avoid strikes. But in the case the Supreme Court heard this week, a federal appeals court ruled that neutrality agreements may violate a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act prohibiting employers from giving unions "anything of value." According to the appeals court, the fact that Mardi Gras gaming gave UNITE HERE access to its facilities and the names and addresses of employees could count as something of value.
The paragraph is designed to keep employers from bribing unions with money, jobs, loans, or other inducements, said Massachusetts labor lawyer Robert Schwartz.

“No employer would think to bribe a union by making it easier for the union to organize,” noted UNITE HERE in a press release.

The Supreme Court hearing a case that could seriously limit union organizing efforts is a terrifying prospect. There were some promising moments during questioning:
Justice Elena Kagan said that the argument from Mulhall's lawyer, William L. Messenger, could mean that employers would never be able to do simple things like invite union representatives on their property to talk to their employees without running afoul of the law.

"So this is to say that the National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from providing access to their premises, from granting a union a list of employees, or from declaring itself neutral as to a union election?" Kagan said.

Messenger agreed, prompting a reaction from Justice Anthony Kennedy. "Do you acknowledge that your answer to Justice Kagan is contrary to years of settled practices and understandings?" Kennedy said.

But still. This is not a pro-worker Court, and it's going to be a nervous wait for the decision.

Continue reading below the fold for more of the week's labor and education news.

A fair day's wage

  • Applebee's workers argued in court that they should be allowed to be a class in a lawsuit against a franchise owner who routinely didn't pay workers the wages they were entitled to, across dozens of restaurants with the same owner.
  • Well, this is vile. As Gawker's Hamilton Nolan describes it:
    In this video, you can see that when a taxi driver with a foreign accent goes to the podium to address the Taxicab Commission, the Commission's chairman, Ron Linton, stops him and tells him that anyone wishing to address them must provide the commissioners with a written copy of their remarks, or else they're not allowed to speak. Another commissioner explains that the commission requires written testimony because "a lot of our cab drivers have difficulty with our language. It's very difficult for us to understand some of the people that testify." [...]

    And the kicker: at the end of the video, an American cab driver without an accent comes up to speak, and notes that he has no written testimony. The commissioners tell him to go ahead and speak, because "we do understand you."

    DC cab drivers have recently been organizing to join the Teamsters, and here you get a taste of what they're up against and why joining together to fight back is so necessary.
  • Boeing is threatening to move production of its newest jet after union workers rejected contract concessions. In fact, the company used the threat of moving production to try to get the workers to accept the concessions.
  • Maine representative and gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud recently made a small splash by coming out as gay; Bruce Vail reports on Michaud's working-class roots and longtime union support:
    Michaud has been a member of the United Paperworkers International Union since 1973, when he joined as a teenager, according to Michaud spokesperson Ed Gilman. Michaud began work alongside his father at the East Millinocket mill operated by the Great Northern Paper Co. and continued working there even after his election to the Maine House of Representatives in 1980 and to the state Senate in 1994. It was only after his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 that he stopped regular work at the Great Northern mill, Gilman says. But he still maintains his membership in the union, which merged with the OCAW in 1999 and then became part of the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2005.
  • Really, Goodwill? Paying disabled workers less than a dollar an hour?
  • Hamilton Nolan takes Matt Yglesias behind the woodshed.
  • Want "Black Friday" deals at Walmart? Prepare to show up on Thanksgiving.


Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Nov 16, 2013 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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