You are on page 1of 18


Saturday, April 12 to Saturday, April 19 (8 days)
 Text: Preface, Prologue, and Chapters 1, 2, and 3 in Staley
 “You Have The Right To Remain Silent: Freedom Of Speech In The Workplace,” chapter
1 in Can They Do That? Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace by Lewis
Maltby [Electronic reserve]
 AFL-CIO website on workers’ issues (read the sections under “Get Informed”)
 Poverty Tour
 Building the Middle Class website on retirement, health care, sick leave, family leave,
minimum wage, earned income tax credit, etc.)
 “The American Middle Class Under Stress,” a 2011 New America Foundation report (20
pages of charts and graphs)
 Working Group on Extreme Inequality website
 “Soaring Poverty Casts Spotlight on ‘Lost Decade’,” September 13, 2011 New York
 Optional: Chapter 5 in The Unfinished Struggle
 Bill Moyers Show: “L.A. Labor” (PBS, 14 minutes)
 Early in the segment take the Practice Test, “How Much Do You Know About Labor?”
Then return to the exam, read the correct answers and comments, do the assigned
reading, and post to Forum 3A.
 Attend the Campus Labor Forum on “Labor Relations in Sports” in the Main Library
auditorium room 66, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16. Submit a paper (see
details in Assignments) by 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 19 to earn extra credit points.
Discussion Forums:
 3A: Workers’ Issues
 3B: How Much Do You Know About Labor?

For this segment and the next two segments you are reading the course’s second text,
Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement. The book relates the story of a
labor conflict in the central Illinois town of Decatur as the 760 members of Allied
Industrial Workers Local 837 waged a three-and-a-half year struggle against the new
owners of the A.E. Staley corn-processing company, British-based Tate and Lyle.
In this segment, we’re discussing issues and challenges facing U.S. workers and the labor
movement. The Prologue and first few chapters of Staley discuss the circumstances that
led to the A.E. Staley labor conflict in Decatur in the 1990s, but more generally allow us

to look at issues of safety in the workplace and the weaknesses of labor law pertaining to
the right to strike.
Forum 3A is about issues facing the American working class. The “Building the Middle
Class” website has sections on retirement, health care, sick leave, family leave, minimum
wage, earned income tax credit, etc. The charts and graphs in “The American Middle
Class Under Stress” report is also compelling data. And go to the AFL-CIO website to
explore topics under “Get Informed” such as: Jobs and Economy; Health Care;
Retirement Security; Work and Family; Trade; Immigration; and Job Safety.
It’s not necessary that this lecture introduces you to every issue facing workers that is
covered in the AFL-CIO website, but to kick off our discussion let’s look at three issues.

Earlier in the course we touched on some of these issues such as low wages and poverty
in America. I’ve asked you to take the “Poverty Tour” to highlight wage and poverty
issues, and to look at a website on inequality.
Below are a few statistics that summarize problems of poverty and low wages that face
America. But as well, to put a “human face” on the numbers, I asked you to watch the
PBS video “L.A. Labor.”
 Median household income, adjusted for inflation, hasn’t changed since 1999.
Statistics show that the wealthy have gotten wealthier while the average family
income has not risen. And this was before the 2008 economic crisis began, which
is further pushing down wages. (If you want more
information, see the 2013 U.S. Census Department report.)
 In 2012, 31% of households had a household income below
$30,000. Over 50% of households had a household income
below $50,000.
 As discussed in Segment 1, the minimum wage (as of the
last increase in July 2009) is only $7.25 an hour or $15,080
a year before taxes. The minimum wage, adjusted for
inflation, is more than one-third lower than in 1979.
As the chart shows, thirty-three million workers earn less
than $10 an hour and 44 million lived below the poverty
line in 2009.


Meanwhile, the minimum wage in other industrialized nations is far higher than in
the United States:



$11.18 New Zealand
$10.65 Japan
$10.02 England

 The United States Department of Agriculture reported 11.2 million people live in
hungry households that cannot afford enough food. 35% live in households that
are food insecure, or at risk of hunger. And 46% of people using emergency food
services are employed.
 As the chart below shows, the real average hourly wage (wages adjusted for
inflation) has barely risen in 30 years. Since 1979 average hourly earnings for 80%
of the country rose 1% after inflation; while productivity rose 60%. If wages rose
with productivity the average wage would be $58,000, not the $40,000 it was at
the end of 2012.
 Income rose 6% for the bottom 20% since 1979; 21% for the middle 20%; and
80% for the top 20%. And it rose 228% for the top 1%. If the distribution of
income were the same as in 1979, income for the bottom 80% would be up by
$8,000 per family a year.


 The number of foreclosures and bankruptcies has tripled since 1979. Foreclosures
reached 2.9 million in 2010, then down gradually to 2.7 million in 2011 and 2.3
million in 2012, and to 1.4 million in 2013. Nationally, 31% of all mortgages are
“under water” – the homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their homes are
 38% of all single-family homes in the Chicago area were underwater in 2013.
 An average husband and wife are working 540 more hours per year than 25 years
ago. A typical U.S. worker labors 1,804 hours a year, 135 more hours a year than
British workers, 240 hours more than French workers, and 370 hours more than
German workers.
 Meanwhile, the typical CEO earns over 300 times as much as the average worker,
up from 131 in 1993 and 36 in 1976.

by the

end of 2013, corporate profits rose to their highest share of national income since
1950, and the share of national income going to wages is at its lowest level since
 In 2010, the percentage of national income devoted to wages and salaries fell to
49.9%, and slipped even further in 2012. According to the New York Times
analysis, this decline helps explain the economic worries of many Americans who
have jobs but still feel they are falling behind.
 And since the beginning of the Great Recession, corporate profits adjusted for
inflation are back up near record levels. They hit $1.68 trillion in 2010. From
there, they went up 7.9% in 2011 and another 3.7% in 2012. In fact, corporate
profits are now at their highest rate ever and are 41% larger compared to 2007,
before the Recession began.

As Babson describes, one of workers’ most urgent demands since the Industrial
Revolution has been the right not to die or be injured on the job. Railroad workers in the
decades after the Civil War never knew when they went to work if they would be killed
or crippled in an accident. Two to three thousand rail workers died every year, peaking at
4,500 in 1907 (Babson page 10).
Thousands of miners died every year as well – miners died at a far higher rate in America
than in Western Europe because companies refused to spend the money to improve mine
safety. For example, 13,228 miners were killed in U.S. coal mines in just the half decade
from 1906 to 1911. Multiply that times many decades and many industries and you have
hundreds of thousands of dead workers, most of whose lives could have been saved if a
little more money had been spent on safety protections.
The labor history lecture described the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, but
although one of the worst industrial disasters in American history with nearly 150 deaths,
Triangle was not the exception but typified the lack of employer concern for workers. By
the 1940s there had been improvements, but 18,000 workers a year still died on the job
(Babson page 120).
Safety in recent decades is far improved over safety a century ago – as a result of
workers’ struggles that led to unionization and favorable legislation such as the
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970. However, nearly 5,000 workers
still die on the job every year. Each year, at least 9 million workers are injured or become
sick on the job, and 50,000 American workers die from occupational illness.
On an average day, 153 workers lose their lives across the country to workplace injuries
and disease. Every day, another 11,233 workers are injured on the job.

As the AFL-CIO’s report “Death on the Job” notes, “the Liberty Mutual data indicate
businesses pay between $159 billion and $318 billion annually in direct and indirect
(overtime, training and lost productivity) costs on workers’ compensation losses. (Indirect
costs are estimated to be two to five times direct costs.) These figures are derived using
disabling incidents (those resulting in an employee missing six or more days away from
work). These cases represent only the most serious injuries and relying only on these
cases significantly underestimates the overall cost of injuries and illnesses.”
The two-page Executive Summary or the more detailed 25-page report, Death on the Job:
The State of Workers’ Safety and Health 2013, are well worth reading.
Many employers have strong concerns about safety issues, but many others have far more
safety rhetoric than good safety practices. The fact that unionized employers must pay
for workers’ lost time when they are off due to injuries is a partial deterrent to unsafe
workplaces. But it’s a little known fact, as described in Staley, that the workers’
compensation laws that provide workers small payment when injured ban workers from
suing employers for negligence that leads to worker deaths.
And of course, having a law is one thing; enforcing it is something entirely different, and
often depends on the political whims of the administration. For example, during the Bush
Administration, Assistant Labor Secretary Ed Foulke, the head of OSHA, repeatedly gave
speeches decrying workers as the main cause of accidents. This May 7, 2006 article,
“OSHA Director Ed Foulke Blames Workplace Carnage On Dumb Employees,” is well
worth reading. How stringently do you think the law was enforced when the head of
OSHA blamed the victims, workers injured or killed on the job, not the malfeasance and
negligence of employers?
I asked you to read the AFL-CIO website’s section on health and safety. I also want you
to read the Prologue to Staley about the lax safety practices of the new owners of the
Decatur A.E. Staley corn-processing plant. The unnecessary, preventable death of Jim
Beals on the job sparked the union’s four-year labor battle that is detailed in the book,
which we’ll discuss in detail in the last segment. I suspect you’ll
find the chapter horrifying – that such practices, such needless
deaths still occur in America today.
And many employers are far more lax about health issues than they
are about workplace safety. Since factories are often located in high
pollution areas, and since millions of Americans smoke, it is
difficult to prove that an employee died from cancer that they
acquired from inhaling toxic dusts and chemicals at work.
Health and safety hazards can be anywhere. They are a pervasive problem in the modern
workplace. This is especially true in the industrial workplace, but it is also the case in

offices, hospitals, and other white-collar jobs.
When we talk about health and safety issues, we’re not just talking about accidents on the
job. We’re also discussing safety and health issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome or
repetitive stress injuries; poor ventilation; excessive noise or heat; breathing fumes or
chemicals; stress; lifting unsafe weights; and so on.
The union movement is the leading force in the fight for a safe workplace, and it is a
never-ending struggle. The road to a safe workplace goes through a strong, vigilant
union health and safety committee, working closely with management. The key to
achieving and keeping a safe workplace is effective education and internal organizing of
the membership.

For this topic you can read the “Trade” section of the AFL-CIO website. NAFTA, the
North American Free Trade Agreement, was passed into law by the U.S. Congress in late
1993. Corporations and Wall Street lobbied hard for the passage of NAFTA. The labor
movement, many citizens’ groups, environmentalists, many religious activists and groups,
and student organizations opposed it. Wall Street and big corporations, which heavily
fund and are closely aligned with legislators, won.
Now, 20 years later, many working families have been devastated by NAFTA. Hundreds
of local communities have been gutted as good-paying, union jobs have left the area.
I’ll share the story of a relative of one of our faculty members
who had his job exported abroad a few years ago. Most people
only think of blue collar workers when they think about victims of
globalization, but he was a white collar worker – in fact, he was a
supervisor. Upon graduating from college, he went to work for
medium-sized company in a mid-management position. He was
well liked and well respected.
After working there for 23 years, he was laid-off. On a Friday
morning he was called into the office and told that he and nine
other faithful, long-term employees were to leave the premises
immediately. They were not allowed to pack their personal
belongings, items that were shipped to their home the following
week. Joe and his wife have three kids. He and his family will
never recover from this loss. He now has a job with no benefits,
making half as much money as he did before, and is haunted by an uncertain future.
Joe’s job went to Mexico.


I’m sure there are students in this class with a similar story about a family member or
friend – please feel free to share stories in Forum 3A.
Take, for example, Bloomington, Indiana. Like Champaign-Urbana, it’s a college town.
But there were also many factories in town that providing good-paying jobs to local
people. But then the RCA/Thompson plant, which at one time employed over 11,000
workers, was closed as jobs were shipped to Mexico. (There is an excellent book called
Capital Moves which follows the RCA company moving its plant from the East coast to
Bloomington, then to Mexico, in search of the cheapest labor it can find.) The Otis
Elevator factory that not long ago employed over a thousand workers has shut down and
moved the jobs to Mexico.
Management at the huge General Electric plant laid off 1,700 union employees, with the
remaining 1,400 hanging on by a thread. Then in January 2005 GE laid off another 800
workers – more jobs to Mexico. GE has moved over 30,000 union jobs, good-paying
jobs with benefits, American jobs, to Mexico – all in search of the cheapest possible
wages (less than $1 an hour), no labor law, no environmental or health and safety laws (or
if they do exist, they’re not enforced), no bans on child labor, etc.
Former GE CEO Jack Welch is celebrated as one of the greatest,
if not the greatest, CEOs of all time. Welch is described in
Fortune, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other business
magazines as a genius. Under his direction, General Electric
flourished and profits soared. But GE workers and American
unionists view him differently, as the king U.S. job exporter.
From 1975-1995 GE reduced its U.S. workforce from 667,000 to 398,000, a decline of
269,000 jobs, shifting those jobs overseas; and now stands at around 150,000.
Welch famously declared, “If I had my way, I’d put every GE plant on a barge.” That is,
he would continually whipsaw one country against another, seeing who would offer the
worst possible wages and least regulation, and move the factories from place to place.
Welch’s declaration and policies are why opponents of corporate-driven globalization call
it the “race to the bottom.”
As well, under Welch’s direction GE told its hundreds of U.S.-based suppliers that if they
wanted to retain GE’s business then they must shut down their U.S. factories and move
them to Mexico or abroad so that they could slash prices. For an interesting article on the
closure of much of the Bloomington GE plant, see “GE Brings Bad Things to Life.”
Does this mean that labor activists are against Mexican, Chinese, or any other countries’
workers? No, not by any means. Pitting U.S. workers against another country’s workers
is not the answer. Truly, we are all in this together. Organized labor wants workers
everywhere to be treated fairly and receive decent wages. Right now there is

overwhelming documentation on the exploitation of Mexican workers and the slum
conditions workers’ families are forced to live in.
Corporations want to see how little they can pay workers and how much they can exploit
their labor. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is just one example. In
November 2003 there were meetings and protests in Miami surrounding the Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA), which has been described as NAFTA on steroids – it
would extend the U.S. “free trade” agreement beyond Canada and Mexico to every
country in Central and Latin America (except Cuba).
The job exodus began in the 1960s as the garment industry began its steady march further
south to Mexico, then over the last two decades we’ve seen garment factories spread to
over 100 poor, developing countries. Exact figures are elusive and ever changing, but the
National Labor Committee reports that over 90% of all clothing is imported today. From
clothing, the exodus of U.S. factories to developing countries spread to other easily
assembled goods. Over 90% of shoes, sporting equipment like baseballs or footballs,
toys, stuffed animals, and teddy bears sold in the U.S. are imported from sweatshops in
the developing world.
Next we saw the exporting of U.S. jobs shift to the electronics industry. Over the last two
or three decades we’ve seen a wave of plant shut downs of U.S. electronics factories. I’m
talking about all the great things around our homes that we love, the things that make life
easier – TVs, microwaves, cell phones, mp3 players. Nearly all today are imported from
Far East sweatshops. Apple primarily uses factories in China to produce its iPods and
iPads. This 2011 article describes the horrific working conditions and subsequent suicides
by Chinese workers in Apple’s factories, where employees typically earn about $43 a
Throughout the 1980s, when the wave of plant closings began, two million jobs a year
were lost to plant closings or mass layoffs, and the plant closings picked up again in the
late 1990s. We’re now witnessing outsourcing on a global scale – especially the
movement of unionized manufacturing plants from the U.S. to Mexico, China, and other
Third World nations.
As reported in the April 2000 Business Week, according to the U.S. Commerce
Department a million jobs a year are lost as a result of our trade deficit or the exporting of
jobs abroad. The May 12, 2004 New York Times reported Labor Department statistics
that 4,500 U.S. factories shut down from 2001 to 2003 to either move abroad or as a
result of imports. One in six manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000 (and again,
that is through 2007, before the economic crisis began in 2008.)
A Jobs with Justice study found that at least 31,000 Illinois jobs were lost as a result of
NAFTA from 1993 to 2000, and the job loss continues. As a result of the exporting of

jobs and free trade policies, the trade deficit – the amount of goods and services that we
import that exceeds the amount we export – has skyrocketed over the past ten years.
Recently, due to the global economic downturn, for the first time in many years the trade
deficit declined. Until 2007 every year the trade deficit has risen and a new record was
set for the largest U.S. trade deficit in history. The decline in the deficit is a result of the
global economic recession, not of a change in the trend of the U.S. importing far more
goods than it exports.
Total trade deficit
2013: $ 475 billion
2012: $ 540 billion
2011: $ 588 billion
2010: $ 500 billion
2009: $ 381 billion
2008: $ 698 billion
2007: $ 697 billion
2006: $ 753 billion
2005: $ 709 billion
2004: $ 605 billion
2003: $ 491 billion
And, looking at just the deficit in manufactured goods (excluding services), the U.S. trade
deficit is even larger. Again, due to the Great Recession, it has temporarily gone done,
but that is not the long term trend. Importing in 2008, for example, $830 billion more in
goods than we export translates into the loss of millions of Americans’ jobs.
Trade deficit in goods
2013: $ 704 billion
2012: $ 735 billion
2011: $ 737 billion
2010: $ 646 billion
2009: $ 506 billion
2008: $ 830 billion
2007: $ 819 billion
2006: $ 836 billion
2005: $ 781 billion
2004: $ 664 billion
2003: $ 540 billion
2002: $ 474 billion


China’s exports to the U.S. have grown exponentially over the past decade and have been
the subject of much discussion:
U.S. trade deficit with China
2013: $ 318 billion
2012: $ 315 billion
2011: $ 295 billion
2010: $ 273 billion
2009: $ 227 billion
2008: $ 268 billion
2007: $ 257 billion
2006: $ 234 billion
2005: $ 202 billion
2004: $ 162 billion
2003: $ 124 billion
If you want more details, here are two government websites that track this information:
Trade in Goods and Services and Foreign Trade Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The result of corporate-driven globalization has been devastating plant closings in one
community after another. Some of you may have felt these effects in your home towns if
you’re from Illinois towns like Decatur, Aurora, Rockford, or Peoria.

In addition to discussing “Issues Facing Workers,” I also want to discuss with you one of
the most important issues facing the American labor movement, U.S. labor law. I’ve
asked you to finish reading Babson to understand the challenges facing the labor
movement since the 1970s.
As well, I’ve asked you to read Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in Staley for two reasons. First, the
chapters introduce you to the Staley workers and lay the groundwork for the rest of the
book, which you’ll read for the next two segments, on how they went about organizing
their members, transforming their apathetic local into a model of activism, and how they
reached out for support locally and nationally.
Second, the chapters more generally discuss the problems facing the entire labor
movement, in particular concerning U.S. labor law concerning strikes and lockouts.
I don’t need to reiterate everything in the chapter, but let’s quickly review here the
situation the unionists faced and which all unions face when the company demands huge
concessions and the union workers don’t want to acquiesce.


We are not studying a labor conflict because strikes are common – contrary to images put
forward in the mainstream media, strikes are very rare and lockouts are even rarer. But
we’re looking at the labor conflict at A.E. Staley because it brings forward some
important and fascinating issues concerning how unions function, corporate behavior,
workers’ rights, labor law, union solidarity campaigns and labor-community coalitions,
and debates over strategy and union philosophy within the labor movement.
These days when workers try to organize unions, the corporations and their anti-union
consultants spread the falsehood that unions are “strike happy” and that forming a union
means workers will be ordered on strike by union leaders. The truth is that throughout
U.S. history and up to the present day, workers never seek to strike. For the workers a
strike means loss of a weekly paycheck, deep personal anxieties and worries, and a
confrontation with the employer with an unknown end. A strike is a tactic of last resort
when workers believe there is no other method of winning justice and fair treatment.
About 1% of the time, when management and labor engage in collective bargaining they
cannot agree on a contract, and union members vote to reject management’s proposed
contract and walk out on strike. Or sometimes it is management that acts to force its
workers out of the plant, as occurred at A.E. Staley. Management wanted deep
concessions; the workers refused to accept them and rejected the contract, but decided not
to strike but to organize a campaign inside the plant – until management escorted the
workers out of the plant in what is called a “lock-out.”
Last segment you read in The Unfinished Struggle about labor’s use of the strike weapon
over the past century and a half. Until Congress passed the Wagner Act in 1935, judges
would routinely issue injunctions against strikes, declaring them an illegal barrier to
commerce. Police, or if deemed necessary the National Guard or the U.S. Army, would
move in to break up picket lines. Union halls were destroyed, union activists beaten, and
union leaders arrested or killed.
When millions of workers clamored to join unions during the Great Depression, and
when employers refused to recognize the union or refused to bargain a contract, workers
often went on strike. Even with the Wagner Act it took a virtual national uprising of
workers to force big business to recognize labor and institutionalize unions into the
American mosaic.
As a result of the 1930s labor uprising and strikes, by 1945 35% of American workers
were unionized, including 50% of manufacturing workers and 70% of workers in basic
industries such as steel, auto, and rubber.


Auto workers occupy their factory in 1937

Police fire tear gas at workers in a 1930s strike

And in 1946 the strikes by 4.5 million workers were a successful declaration by the labor
movement that unions were, finally, going to be a permanent part of a democratic society
in America. Real income doubled over the next two decades for the average working
class American as a result of unions. Tens of millions of workers – union and nonunion
as a result of the “union wage effect” Michael Mauer talked about in your Segment 1
reading – won pensions; employer-paid health, eye, and dental care; and paid vacations,
holidays, and sick days.
In this era, from the early 1950s to the late 1970s, labor and management agreed upon
what Staley and Unfinished Struggle call “the social contract” – an agreement that
employers’ war on unions would end (at least in the industrialized Midwest, Northeast,
and West Coast regions of the country), and management would share profits with union
workers through steadily improved wages and benefits.

Then when the economy went into recession in the late 1970s, large numbers of
American corporations decided that it was time to end their friendly relationship with
On pages 155-159 of The Unfinished Struggle Babson describes how President Reagan
gave corporate America a signal that a new day had dawned when in August 1981 he
swiftly smashed the strike of 11,000 air traffic controllers, organized in the PATCO union,
firing the strikers and replacing them with scabs. This was the first time the U.S.
government had crushed a union of government employees, and America hadn’t seen the
complete destruction of a major union since the 1894 destruction of the American
Railway Union led by Eugene Debs. President Reagan’s action sent a message to
corporate America that it was open season on unions.

This is an
illustration in a
leaflet distributed
by the Los
Angeles local of
PATCO during
the strike. The
leaflet urged
unionized pilots,
flight attendants,
and aircraft
mechanics to
support the strike.

As Babson and Ashby/Hawking explain, under U.S. law when workers engage in an
“economic strike” over wages, benefits, and work rules, an employer can bring in scab
workers. If management defines these strikebreakers as “permanent replacements,” these
scabs remain on the job when the strike ends and the strikers they replaced are put a
recall list to be brought back when jobs open up. After workers have been on strike for
one year, “permanently replaced” workers lose the right to vote in an election to remove
the union – even if they are still active strikers. That lets strikebreakers vote out the
union and end the strike.
As Staley notes on page 34, as a result of union-busting, automation, moving factories
abroad, and an AFL-CIO leadership uninterested in union organizing or reaching out to
the public for support, the percentage of unionized workers steadily dropped from 35% of
the workforce in 1955 to 16% in 1990. By 2014, the unionized workforce dropped to just
11.3% of all workers. The percentage of unionized manufacturing workers fell even
more sharply, from half the workforce in the 1950s to just 19% of manufacturing workers
in 1993, to 10.5% in 2013.

Percentage of U.S. Workers
Who Are Members of Unions


Staley and Unfinished Struggle on pages 146-153
describe how, during the 1950s and 1960s, labor’s
success transformed a vibrant bottom-up social
movement into, too often, an ossified, top-down
As corporations ended the “social contract” and used
strikes to break unions, the number of strikes fell
sharply. (See the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a chart
showing the annual number of strikes and workers involved.)
This was the situation the Staley workers faced when the
new corporate owners, British-based Tate and Lyle,
purchased the A.E. Staley company and told its Decatur
union workers that management wanted to end positive relations with its union and gut
the labor contract, severely restricting workers’ rights and benefits, and creating unsafe
and unhealthy working conditions in the name of increasing productivity and profits.
As Staley notes on page 26, the company’s vice-president for operations told AIW Local
837, “We are going to hit you hard all at once” rather than demanding concessions in
contract after contract.
The workers determined that the company wanted to provoke a strike in order to destroy
the union. Instead, after extensive meetings and educational sessions led by labor
educators, the union determined to launch a national corporate campaign to win public
support, and to continue working in the plant while organizing a work-to-rule campaign.
This part of the story will be the subject of our discussion forums in the last segment.

October 1994 march in front of the Staley plant


As you’ll read, one of the main issues facing the Staley workers was the limitations of
American labor law. In the second part of the forum, I want you to discuss labor law and
employment in America today. The Practice Test highlighted many weaknesses in
American labor and employment law, as have your lectures and the Babson text.
Let’s review some of the issues facing workers and unions concerning the law.
First, let’s look at labor law. These are laws concerning workers’ rights and ability to
organize and administer unions. When we discuss “issues facing the U.S. labor
movement,” the weaknesses of American labor law are at the top of the list.
The 1935 National Labor Relations Act finally, after a century of struggle, legalized
unions. The NLRA declared that it was the position of the United States government (in
order to limit the impact of strikes on the economy) to “encourage the practice and
procedure of collective bargaining and protect 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.”
But, as discussed in Segment 1, the law is deeply flawed. Ten thousand workers a year
trying to form a union are illegally fired, because the law has no teeth; tens of thousands
of other workers trying to form unions are illegally harassed and intimidated. The
weakness of the Wagner Act and its enforcement by the National Labor Relations Board
leaves the United States with the weakest protections for workers trying to form unions
among all industrialized nations.
I’ve assigned you to read about the Employee Free Choice Act, which was recently
before Congress but stalled despite majority support in the House and Senate. The EFCA
legislation would:
1) Radically increase penalties on employers who violate the NLRA which prohibits
repression against workers who seek to form a union.
2) Allow workers to choose whether they want to join a union through an election; or
through a majority of workers signing a card signifying their desire to join a union.
Workers often seek the latter path because it doesn’t allow their employer one or
two months to organize an intimidation campaign.
3) If the union and an employer cannot negotiate a contract during the first year after
the workers ask for union recognition, a neutral third-party mediator will establish
a first contract.

Chapter 3 of Staley discusses the failed 1990-91 Caterpillar strike
and how the defeat of the United Auto Workers helped convince
the Staley workers not to strike but instead to organize an in-plant
campaign involving shop floor rallies and actions, and a work-torule drive. The book describes how American labor law allows
employers to hire scabs or “permanent replacements” in most
strikes; and that if management and labor cannot resolve the
strike issues within one year, the striking workers can be
permanently replaced.
The hiring of scabs and the ability of an employer to permanently
replace its workforce are unique among industrialized nations,
leaving U.S. workers the weakest protections of their fundamental
democratic right to engage in a strike.
Next, let’s look at U.S. employment laws. These are laws giving benefits to all
workers, union and non-union alike. I’ve asked you to take the Practice Test “What do
you know about labor?” This is a practice test. You will not be graded on this test.
However, you will be asked to discuss facts that you learned from taking this exam and
from reviewing the answers in the forum “How Much Do You Know About Labor?”
After taking the test, go back and look to see which questions you got wrong and to look
at the explanation about the correct answer. I think you’ll be surprised when you take the
test and go back to read the explanations of the correct answers.
Note that information from the explanations to the answers will appear in future graded
The chapters from “Why Unions Matter” and “The Union Members Complete Guide”
will help you understand the answers to the quiz. As well, read the “You Have the Right
to Remain Silent” chapter from the book Can They Do That? It is a great supplement to
the explanations to the Practice Test answers. If you are shocked at much of what you
read in this chapter (and I think you will be) then you might want to know that our class,
LER 290: Employment Law, assigns this book as a text.
Here are some facts about U.S. employment and labor laws:
 There is no U.S. federal law mandating health insurance, while in Canada and
Western Europe everyone has health coverage, no one gets turned away from a doctor,
and no one goes deep into debt or goes bankrupt due to a medical emergency.
 There is no U.S. federal law mandating that hourly workers be paid an additional
amount for working the night shift, while 50 countries have such laws.

 There is no U.S. federal law prohibiting companies from forcing their workers to
work more than 10 hours a day, while 84 countries have laws on the maximum length
of the workday and 134 countries mandate one day off a week for rest.
 There is no U.S. federal law mandating paid vacation, and U.S. workers labor more
hours – by far – than any other industrialized nation. At least 137 countries mandate
paid annual leave; 121 of those countries guarantee 2 weeks or more paid vacation per
year and 37 countries mandate more than 4 weeks paid vacation per year.
 There is no U.S. federal law mandating paid maternity leave, but 169 countries
provide paid maternity leave for the birth of a child and 98 nations offer 14 weeks or
more paid leave (and 31 countries also offer 14 weeks or more paid leave for new
 The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as a result of the 1930s labor upsurge as you
read about in Babson, mandated that employers pay workers a minimum wage. The
U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or (times 2,080 hours) $15,080 a year. In
Western Europe the minimum wage is generally 50% of the average wage. A U.S.
minimum wage at 50% of average hourly pay would be $11.00 an hour – or (times
2,080 hours) $22,900 a year or 50% higher.

Drawing on the information in the reading, explain what you think are the one or two
most important issues, problems, or challenges facing American workers today. Share
how you would change laws or otherwise remedy these problems. Engage other students
by critiquing their perspective. Cite the reading and videos in your posts.

Describe at least three things that surprised you the most by reading the answer
explanations in the Practice Test, the Maltby chapter, and other reading. Cite the reading
in your posts. Engage other students by commenting on their perspective.