March 28th, 2013
The news of the last week has been somewhat of a letdown, but the seeds of rebirth are out there, brothers and sisters. Walmart, the nation's largest retail services employer, notorious for underpaying it's workers, denying them adequate healthcare coverage and shuttering profitable locations in the face of successful union organizing (as they did last year in Canada), has decided to seek protection from OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect at Walmart) and their friends at the United Food and Commercial Workers International union (UFCW). Despite public relations efforts on the part of Walmart to deny any effect or impact from a two year grass roots organizing campaign by OUR Walmart (workers from within Walmart disgusted by the company's anti-employee working environment), apparently this organizing campaign has irritated Walmart executives enough that they decided to file a suit at the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida to stop OUR Walmart and the UFCW union from aiding or abetting any more store related actions of OUR Walmart to disturb the sales environment at individual stores in Florida. You might remember that this grass-roots action to bring public attention to the state of working conditions at their favorite bargain store reached a crescendo last Thanksgiving, on "Black Friday," when some estimates placed over 100,000 Walmart workers outside stores around the country that day to demonstrate their anger at their Walmart bosses.
See the rest of the story here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/25/walmart-sues-protesters-florida-stores_n_2950992.html
While this is a small percentage of the million plus employees of Walmart throughout the country, it was clearly enough of a start to get Walmart's attention. Walmart is in a difficult spot, having to cater to the low end of the retail spectrum at a time when their own policies of paying minimum wages, with little or no benefits, have paved the way for an economy where these working folks don't even have the discretionary funds to shop at Walmart. Costco, which covers a similar market, is unionized, pays benefits and maintains a workforce with a fraction of the turnover and unhappiness on the job as Walmart. It is easy to see that despite OUR Walmart being a relatively small organizing drive, they have already brought this message of inequality to the public. Walmart's decision to bring a legal case against the UFCW , which has never actually announced any real organizing drive, shows how rankled these corporate types can get when even a small group of workers start effectively organizing for better working conditions. Imagine what would happen if a coalition of national service unions actually pooled their resources to publicly organize over one million Walmart retail workers? That would be a really exciting and momentous event in our recent labor history. I think that type of effort alone could shift the worker/corporate landscape during the next election cycle by reaching millions of voters on their home turf and talking about daily issues of what it means to be able to survive with dignity in this increasingly unequal society.
This leads me to the issue of the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB, set up as part of the Wagner Act and then the National Labor Relations Act during the height of the Great Depression, finally created an impartial federal hearing board where both workers and employers might get a fair hearing on issues related to organizing unions and ever part of workplace existence. Though always imperfect, sometimes weighted to the employers, under Republican administrations, sometimes claimed to tilt towards workers under Democratic administrations (though the corporate types always forget to mention how after the Taft-Hartley revision to the NLRA in 1947, they had all the "legal" tools they needed to throttle union drives under the law), the NLRB had until recently survived intact since the 1930s as a balancing force in the battle for worker's rights.
Until now. Since the start of President Obama's first term in office there has been a concerted plan on the part of right-wing business allied forces to not only block any appointments of labor/worker friendly judges to the NLRB, but the Republicans in Congress have filibustered every single Obama appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The end result of that effort was a lopsided three to zero vote by the all Republican appointed court to overturn President Obama's recess appointments of three NLRB judges to fill the NLRB to a working majority over the last three years. Those appointments have allowed the board to settle hundreds of cases that had been stalled for years due to a lack of the necessary three judge quorum required by the NLRA in order for the NLRB to operate. A recent article, again thanks to The Huffington Post, points out in detail how the failure to reform the filibuster rule in the US Senate has directly affected the lives of thousands of workers. In this case, the US Court of Appeals, by throwing the NLRB's decisions into question, has once again delayed and extended the retirement pay and health benefits settlements for hundreds of coal miners in West Virginia. These miners were the victims of the corporate sleight of hand at the Cannelton coal mines in West Virginia. When these mines were purchased by Massey Energy - an anti-union mining conglomerate famous for running the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia where 29 miners died in a collapse due to lack of adequate safety precautions - hundreds of UMWA members were fired and not invited back to their jobs when Massey reopened the Cannelton Mine.
The end effect of filibustering Democratic nominated federal judges and attacking the last bastion of federally run workplace rights adjudication (the NLRB) is the destruction of any real path to workplace rights and dignity.
All unions and all workers should be out there screaming about this travesty now. The one thing I would say to the right-wing corporate types that think they are gaining the upper hand: be careful what you wish for. Remember 1934, before the National Labor Relations Act and the NLRB. Workers will only take being stomped upon for so long and then they will fight back with every tool in their kit, including strikes, sit-ins, work stoppages. Workers across many industries outside the NLRB are organizing every single day as we speak. If short-sighted legislators and CEOs think they can legislate and filibuster worker's rights for the long haul - they've got a big surprise coming down the road.
Read the full article here and write to your elected officials! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/23/nlrb-senate_n_2934910.html