The State of Workers’ Rights in 2019 – You Be the Judge

This story was originally published in the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO News and Views Newsletter. Sign up here to receive your free copy.

Written by President Rick Bloomingdale

As we look to the new year, this is both a time of reflection and looking forward. All in all this has been a busy and productive year for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. As we push forward in the fight for workers’ rights, there are still those that would attack and attempt to destroy unions. These attacks don’t just come from unscrupulous and greedy employers, but from elected officials and non-elected officials inside government.

As we always say, elections have consequences.  And those attacks don’t just come from bad legislation. Those attacks can come in more insidious forms such as regulations and what is euphemistically called rule making. This method lets unelected ideologues take what could be well-meaning legislation and turn it against its intent or push through anti-worker legislation and make it worse through regulation. Too often, political appointees with partisan motivations are put in positions of power where personal interest can override public good. 

In the federal government, this kind of cronyism is directly impacting the rights of workers in public service.  Federal workers, those Brothers and Sisters who care for our veterans and keep our country safe, are facing serious threats to their right to union representation.  President Trump issued three executive orders that go after federal workers basic right to exist as a union. He has rolled back decades of practice and procedure, utilized by both Republican and Democratic Presidents, that allowed unions like the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) to represent their members.

But the White House administration has made moves for years to circumvent and weaken collective bargaining in the public and private sectors, and have even gone so far as to undermine safety and health protections for workers and consumers.  President Trump has made it easier for employers to skirt their OSHA reporting requirements and rolled back significant protections for workers 401(K)s. Under this administration, National Labor Relations Board appointees have changed rules that the previous Board had made regarding the timeliness of union elections and employer spending on anti-union law firms. The new rules make it significantly harder for workers to organize into unions.

In times like these, we are reminded of the preamble to the National Labor Relations Act, that says:

It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self- organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

Nearly two years ago, the US Supreme Court, now with two new Justices appointed by President Trump, wrote a decision called Janus that was so obviously against promoting collective bargaining that it would have been laughable had it not been so wrong. Nothing the Executive Branch has done encourages collective bargaining; instead, they’ve sought to erase it from the workplace.

Not everything is doom and gloom. In Pennsylvania we are embarking on a campaign to pass pro-worker, pro-union legislation.  It’s time for an aggressive offense to further workers’ right in our Commonwealth. We’re also joining the National AFL-CIO on their campaign to pass the PRO Act- the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. 2020 is going to be a busy year for Pennsylvania’s workers, we will be organizing both in the workplace and at the ballot box to raise workers’ wages, safety and benefits. As we prepare for this very busy year I would like to wish all of you the Happiest of Holidays!