It should not be hard to organize a union.
And a worker certainly should not lose her job for supporting a union organizing drive.
That’s a principle long embraced by leaders of the United States when they speak on the international stage. The United States formally embraces and supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” When that document was drafted by in 1947, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (a key player in the process) wrote, “The United States delegation considered that the right to form and join trade unions was an essential element of freedom. While other associations had long enjoyed recognition, trade unions had met with much opposition and it was only recently that they had become an accepted form of association. The struggle was, in fact, still continuing, and her delegation thought, therefore, that specific mention should be made of trade unions.”
Decades later, the United States continues to adhere to this view—at least officially. While the just-announced Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is flawed on many levels, it includes language that requires countries such as Vietnam to recognize and respect the right to form independent trade unions.
Yet, while the US government tells other countries to respect the right to organize unions and collectively bargain, those rights have been under assault here. And the assault does not just take place in states led by anti-labor zealots such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Ohio Governor John Kasich.
Just ask Allysha Almada, a nurse who has drawn national attention because of the allegation that she was fired from Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, California, in retaliation for her support of a California Nurses Association/National Nurses United effort to organize a union at the facility.
“I was fired for speaking out in my workplace to improve patient care conditions by organizing a union,” says Almada, an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse who notes that she and other nurses raised concerns about failures by the hospital to guarantee adequate staffing and to provide sufficient supplies. “My case is not unique. There are thousands of nurses and other workers who face retaliation when they try to raise their voices collectively to address unsafe condition – conditions that in hospitals and other workplaces actually endanger lives.”
Almada was in Washington Tuesday to participate in the White House Summit on Worker Voice. With other workers from across the country, she made the trip in order to highlight threats to worker rights, as well as what the Obama administration describes as “workplace policies that better respond to worker needs and concerns”
“Nurses at Huntington have been fighting for years to have a voice at our hospital, but now we have a listening ear with the President of the United States,” says Almada, 28, who adds that, “I feel determined to share the stories of Huntington nurses and what we’ve been through, and get our political leaders to support legislation to support workers’ rights and more protections against retaliation, like what happened to me.”
To that end, Almada appeared Tuesday afternoon with Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, who announced that they are introducing the Workplace Democracy Act, a measure designed to make it easier for workers to join a union and to engage in collective bargaining.
“The Workplace Democracy Act strengthens the middle class by restoring workers’ rights to bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” says Pocan. “One of the root causes of declining wages is that workers’ ability to join together and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions has been has been severely undermined. This bill would make it easier for workers to have a voice in the workplace, providing a bigger paycheck to middle class families trying to pay the mortgage and find a way to send their kids to college.”
Its sponsors say that “the Workplace Democracy Act would allow the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards. The bill also requires companies to begin negotiating within 10 days after certification. If no first contract is reached after 90 days, either party can request compulsory mediation. After 30 days of mediation, the parties will submit the remaining issues to binding arbitration.”
The proposed legislation offers a measure of protections for workers who often face harassment, threats and intimidation when they exercise their right to join, organize and advocate for a union.
That’s a major concern of Sanders, a Democratic presidential contender who argues that the United States should be making it easier for workers to join unions as part of a broader push for economic fairness and renewal.
“Millions of Americans who want to join unions are unable to do so because of the coercive and often illegal behavior of their employers,” explains Sanders, who says. “The benefits of joining a union are clear: higher wages, better benefits and a more secure retirement. If we are serious about reducing income and wealth inequality and rebuilding the middle class, we have got to substantially increase the number of union jobs in this country.