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One Quarter of the Workforce Without the Right to Organize
Written by Erin Johansson   
November 24, 2008

According to new numbers released by American Rights at Work, 33.5 million people—24% of the workforce—have no legally-protected right to form a union. This is an embarrassing number for an advanced democracy like ours. As a Human Rights Watch report noted, large exclusions of workers from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) “run counter to international human rights standards compelling broad protection of workers' freedom of association.”

Why are so many workers without the right to organize? The NLRA excludes several classes of workers, including public employees, agricultural workers, and independent contractors, and many states have failed to pass laws extending coverage to these employees. Additionally, decisions by the Bush Labor Board have excluded employees with minimal supervisory duties, disabled janitors, graduate student assistants, newspaper carriers, and other categories of workers from the law’s protections. And employers are increasingly misclassifying their employees as independent contractors, denying them the right to form unions and gain other employment law protections.

Thanks to the November election, the political conditions are ripe for addressing the problem of a diminishing population of workers with protected union rights. Congress should pass several bills that have been introduced to restore rights to those wrongly categorized as supervisors, independent contractors, and students. President-elect Obama should appoint members to the Labor Board who are willing to interpret the NLRA in a way that reflects the new realities of the workplace, and reverse the course of the Bush Board to narrow the law’s coverage.