Union Organizing Could Become More Like A Civil Right

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Hoping to make union organizing more like a civil right, congressional Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday to update and radically change a decades-old labor law.

The Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act would make it easier for workers to unionize while adding new penalties on employers who interfere. It was introduced by Democrats Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott.

“The WAGE Act would strengthen protections for all workers and it would finally crack down on employers who break the law,” Murray said in a statement. “I am going to be fighting for this legislation.”

If enacted, the measure would guarantee workers were allowed to advocate for unionizing in their workplace. It would also require employers to tell their new hires and publicly post how workers can unionize. Additionally, the bill would provide the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) much more power to punish employers.

Unions are praising the proposed legislation as being a much needed update to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The AFL-CIO, which helped to draft the measure, notes the bill will provide workers with a right to bring suit to recover legal fees as a result of a labor dispute, “just as they can under civil rights laws.”

“The WAGE Act puts corporations who abuse working people on notice that there will be real penalties for lawbreaking,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “Penalties like triple back pay, strong civil penalties and preliminary reinstatement.”

The measure, though, is likely to face a tough uphill battle. Republicans, which hold a majority in both the House and Senate, have been critical of the NLRB. They argue the board has been biased towards union and has overstepped its authority.

The WAGE Act will also solidify some of the practices Republicans have been fighting. This includes a decision by the NLRB to change how employers that contract with one another are classified. The bill does this by, “ensuring employers will be jointly responsible for violations affecting workers supplied by another employer.”

Franchises have been the NLRB’s primary focuses when changing contracting. Franchising is a unique form of contracting. It allows a small business to contract with a large corporation, like McDonald’s, so that it can to use its brand name and sell its products. This while getting to run its business the way it wants.

Under the NLRA, a company can be considered an employer over a company it contracts with if it has significant enough control over its employees. Critics, however, argued the recent attempts by the NLRB to broaden the standard undermined the entire model.

Republican members of Congress have tried to rein in the NLRB on numerous occasions in the past year but President Barack Obama has opposed any meaningful reforms. In March, Senate and House Republicans voted on a resolution to overturn a new NLRB union election rule but the president vetoed it.

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