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Why Can't 60 Million Americans Get What They Want?
Written by Erin Johansson   
April 10, 2008

60 million non-union workers say they would join a union if they could, yet only 16 million workers belong to unions in the United States.  There are many ways to explain this discrepancy—for instance, aggressive unionbusting by employers and changes in the global economy—yet it’s hard to deny the impact of our weak labor law, made much worse by the Bush-appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board. 

Workers have successfully organized through the voluntary recognition process for years, yet the Republican majority of the Board undermined this process in their recent Dana Metaldyne decision. A group of AT&T technicians encountered this roadblock in their efforts to form a union this year.

On April 3, AT&T technicians in New York voted for the second time in favor of union representation with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), 26 to 7. Two months prior, AT&T recognized these workers’ union after the American Arbitration Association certified that a majority of the 44 employees had signed union authorization cards.  Yet rather than winning the benefits and protections of CWA’s regional agreement with AT&T after forming their union, workers had to endure the rigamarole of an NLRB election after only 30 percent of the unit filed a decertification petition. 

For the past 40 years, the NLRB has barred such immediate petitions for decertification, requiring a year to pass after voluntary recognition is granted so the new bargaining relationship can flourish without threat of upheaval.  Yet Dana Metaldyne reversed this precedent, allowing a minority of workers to thwart the will of the majority.  As long as anti-worker Board members continue to erect roadblocks to organizing, it could be a long time before those 60 million workers get what they want.