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Freedom to Form Unions
In response to longer hours, higher healthcare premiums, and more work for the same pay, a new generation of workers is seeking unions. Employees want a voice on the job to create new workplace standards that realize America’s image as ‘the land of opportunity.’
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  1. ICED OUT: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights

    When unscrupulous employers fail to uphold labor standards for certain groups of workers, like undocumented immigrants, all U.S. workers suffer the consequences. By driving down labor standards to the lowest common denominator, it becomes harder to enforce laws and standards even for native-born workers.

    In this report we focus on the balance between the DOL’s need to protect workers’ rights and ICE’s mandate to enforce immigration laws. We examine how ICE’s failure to fully participate in this balancing act has contributed to the creation of perverse incentives against complying with fair wage and hour laws, OSHA requirements, and labor laws that protect collective bargaining rights.

    This report includes several case studies that illuminate the multiple ways ICE and the DOL could partner with each other and with other agencies to raise the floor on core labor standards.

    » Press release
    » Download report (PDF)

  2. The Haves and Have-Nots

    How American Labor Law Denies a Quarter of the Workforce Collective Bargaining Rights

    The right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. American labor law has not kept pace with the changing nature and face of the modern workplace and increasingly excludes more and more workers from this legal protection. Increasing numbers of employees have a supervisory aspect or capacity of their work. More and more immigrants join the workforce, especially in the agricultural sector, and more people have been classified as independent contractors, whether by choice or by an employer’s decision. As these changes take place, American labor law denies these workers their legally-protected right to form unions and collectively bargain by either defining workers as not employees or by expressly excluding them.

    This report provides an accurate, up-to-date analysis of the number and type of workers without collective bargaining rights, as well as recent trends in the workforce and legal rulings that have impacted that number. There are 140.5 million people in the civilian workforce. Our research found that of these employees, 33.5 million, or 23.8%, have no rights under the NLRA or any other labor law: no legally-protected right to join or form a union, no legally-protected right to bargain collectively for their wages and conditions of work, and therefore, effectively no freedom of association in the workplace.

    » Download Executive Summary (PDF)
    » Download Full Report (PDF)

  3. Half a Million and Counting

    In these tough economic times, workers need more opportunities to get ahead – that’s why unions matter and why workers across the country are seeking to form them today. Since 2003, more than half a million Americans formed unions through majority sign-up, an efficient, fair and democratic union organizing process where employers recognize unions if a majority of employees demonstrate their desire to form one.1

  4. Allies in Action Supporting Workers: National Council of La Raza

    In May 2005, NCLR announced that it would not hold its 2006 Annual Conference in Los Angeles because the workers needed its help. Janet Murguia, NCLR Presidnet and CEO, explained, “It would be inconsistent with who we are and what we do as an organization to hold a large event in the city while these negotiations are under way. We hope that these labor issues will be resolved in a way which serves the needs of the workers and the industry. When that happens, we’d be delighted to investigate the possibility of returning.”

    » Download this fact sheet (PDF)

  5. Allies in Action Supporting Workers: Sierra Club

    As a close ally of working people and their unions, the Sierra Club was aware that a labor dispute might erupt at one of its conference hotels in 2005. To avoid a potential collision with the Summit, the organization insisted on language in their hotel contract that would allow them to withdraw their booking without a financial penalty if the dispute had not been resolved.

    » Download this fact sheet (PDF)

  6. A Union Is Worth the Risk of Organizing

    Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who use the threat of deportation to force workers to accept poor and unsafe work conditions, low wages, and little to no benefits. But everybody’s got a right—a universal human right—to fair wages and a safe working environment. Maria and Gerrardo, Salvadoran immigrants who came to this country to make a better life for their families, share their stories of why fighting for a union is worth the struggle.

    > Read their story.
    > Download a PDF.

  7. Obstacles to Organizing Under the Railway Labor Act

    The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) presents a challenge to workers who wish to organize and collectively bargain.  Yet workers in the airline and railroad industry are subject to an entirely different set of rules and regulations for organizing.  Find out why the Railway Labor Act (RLA) makes the path for forming a union even more difficult than for workers covered by the NLRA.

  8. How Unions Make Workplaces Safer

    Unions help to enforce health and safety standards in a number of important ways:


  9. Some of Them are Brave: The Unfulfilled Promise of American Labor Law

    bravetinythumb.jpg This report provides an in-depth look at workers fighting for the right to form unions in Florida’s nursing home industry. Findings indicate that workers face widespread and systematic violations of their legal and human rights, and show the need for labor law reform.

    » Download the report (PDF: 24 pages, 316 KB)


  1. Sandy Assaraf, America West worker

    "I’m a terrific employee…yet I’m always insecure.  I feel I will have security now."

  2. Salvador Campos, U-Haul

    The organizing effort at U-Haul "gave us common ground. Even though in a certain way we’re all different…what brought us together was that we had a common struggle."

  3. Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch Executive Director

    "Legal obstacles tilt the playing field so steeply against workers’ freedom of association that the United States is in violation of international human rights standards for workers." Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth

  4. Shawna Brown, Cingular Customer Service Representative

    “We have a real voice at Cingular now. We will have disagreements with the company, but with CWA we are secure in knowing that we have the right to disagree without consequences.” 

  5. Larry Cohen, President, CWA

    “Imagine if this was the experience for all workers in America. It could and it should be this straightforward for men and women to have a free and fair choice to form a union and work in partnership with their employer to make it a success.” 

  6. Lon O’Neil, Senior Vice President for Human Resources at Kaiser Permanente

    "We not only believe it’s the fair thing to do, we also believe it’s the right thing to do for our employees, our health plan members, and also our business."

  7. John August, Executive Vice President Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions

    "Employees represented by the union coalition are committed to a high-performance vision…workers want to perform and do the best job that they can."

  1. “West Wing” cast speaks out!

    Just like their characters from The West Wing, Martin Sheen, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Schiff care deeply about the struggles of working families. That’s why they came to Washington, DC to help kick off our "Faces of the Employee Free Choice Act" campaign and recorded this video.  Check it out!

  2. Video: A Workplace That’s Seriously Out of Whack

    Let’s face it. Something’s wrong when CEOs rake in hundreds of times what their employees earn, and workers get the boot just for talking about unions.  It could almost be a bad joke if it weren’t such a serious problem.

    That’s why we teamed up with the award-winning producers at Brave New Films to make this video about a workplace where employees work without benefits, pay is based on favoritism, and the CEO is the only one with a contract.

    After you watch, we hope you take a minute to sign our petition for the Employee Free Choice Act.  

  3. Video: Employee Free Choice Act

    This video shows what the Employee Free Choice Act is all about.  Originally produced for SEIU at their international convention last month, this 8-minute movie explains what the Employee Free Choice Act is, why we need it, and who it’d help.  If you’ve got eight minutes, sit back, press play, and pass on this video to friends and family.

  1. One Quarter of the Workforce Without the Right to Organize

    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.

  2. Half a Million and Counting

    The anti-union Employee Freedom Action Committee is spending millions to run advertisements depicting majority sign-up as a new, off-the-wall, and anti-democratic process that, if the Employee Free Choice Act passes, will allow unions to intimidate employees into joining.

    Yet new research by American Rights at Work reveals that with little fanfare, more than half a million Americans have already formed unions through majority sign-up since 2003. In fact, majority sign-up is now more commonly used than the National Labor Relations Board election process—no surprise given that research has found it to be less coercive.

About Our Organization

American Rights at Work is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to promoting the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers.


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