The system is broken

I recently attended “The National Labor Relations Act at 75: Its Legacy and Its Future,” a two-day symposium hosted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the George Washington University Law School. Bringing together academics and practitioners, the conference allowed experts in law, economics, and sociology to mark the Act’s 75th birthday by considering its impact on America’s workers. In doing so, the conference was a unique opportunity to take stock of labor law in this country and discuss its (evolving?) role in the years to come.

Professor Richard Freeman, a noted labor economist from Harvard, set the theme for the entire event in the first panel. Borrowing from federal judge Abner Mikva, Freeman declared, “It is perhaps harsh and impolitic at the NLRA’s 75th birthday to declare that in 2010 the law no longer fits American economic reality and has become an anachronism irrelevant for most workers and firms. But that is the case.”

Presenters on later panels affirmed this conclusion with evidence that pointed to the struggles of workers trying to form unions and collectively bargain in today’s workplaces. The reality is that employers know they can fire and/or punish union supporters under the current NLRB elections process to send a message to their co-workers. And companies can require managers to warn subordinates about the ‘dangers’ of forming a union in mandatory meetings – even when the supervisors prefer to remain neutral.

As Georgetown law professor Michael Gottesman noted, the status quo makes it economically rational for employers to break the law.

But presenters also offered ideas for moving forward, including a call for reforming the Act so that it better suits the needs of modern workplaces. That kind of reform is necessary if we’re serious about creating a win-win economy that truly values workers in both the workplace and the community. It’s a goal that remains unchanged since the Act’s enactment seventy-five years ago.

As Wilma Liebman said when she was appointed to be NLRB Chairman,

“The Board’s work matters, just as it did when the NLRB was passed in 1935. Democracy in the workplace is still basic to a democratic society, and collective bargaining is still basic to a fair economy. The statute we administer is the foundation of America’s commitment to human rights recognized around the world.”

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 at 6:37 pm and is filed under Eye on the NLRB. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “The system is broken”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by AmericanRightsAtWork, Dan McDonald. Dan McDonald said: RT @araw: Experts agree that labor law is broken […]

  2. Zoe Jacobs says:

    I would like to know how I can put out there what Sony is doing to it’s workers in Terre Haute, Indiana. They are busing them from Indianapolis to
    Terre Haute which is a one hour commute each way. They are working them
    12 hours a day, two shifts back to back. 6 AM to 6 PM and 6 PM to 6 AM. I don’t know what types of breaks they get or what amenities they have.

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