‘Weak’ U.S. Labor Laws are a Human Rights Violation?

By September 1, 2010General, Labor Unions

The U.S. Department of State last week submitted its first-ever report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on conditions in the United States, “Report of the United States of America Submitted to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights In Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review.” (News release, report.) We’re not so great, really, the State Department seemed to be saying.

News coverage centered on the report’s inclusion of Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law as an affront to human rights, a violation the Obama Administration was addressing through court action. As Politico reported, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the criticism of the state’s law “downright offensive.”

The State Department report also suggests that labor policy is an area where the United States falls short:

Freedom of association also protects workers and their right to organize. The labor movement in the United States has a rich history, and the right to organize and bargain collectively under the protection of the law is the bedrock upon which workers are able to form or join a labor union. Workers regularly use legal mechanisms to address complaints such as threats, discharges, interrogations, surveillance, and wages-and-benefits cuts for supporting a union. These legal regimes are continuously assessed and evolving in order to keep pace with a modern work environment. Our UPR consultations included workers from a variety of sectors, including domestic workers who spoke about the challenges they face in organizing effectively. Currently there are several bills in our Congress that seek to strengthen workers’ rights—ensuring that workers can continue to associate freely, organize, and practice collective bargaining as the U.S. economy continues to change.

Our emphasis. If the legislation is needed to “strengthen workers’ rights,” the implication is that U.S. labor laws are weak and these rights are not adequately protected.  Those claims — commonly made by organized labor and other advocates of the Employee Free Choice Act — are not founded in fact:

In 2009, labor unions won 68.5 percent of representation elections. Furthermore, 95 percent of all elections are conducted within 56 days of the filing of a petition by the union, with a median of 38 days.

But the report eschews fact-based analysis to base its claim for legitimacy on “civil society” consultations, a series of hearings around the nation dominated by aggrieved activists, interest groups and people with an an axe to grind.

Labor was an issue at the New York City hearing in February. Speaking were Ejim Dike, Urban Justice Center; Haeyoung Yoon, National Employment Law Project; Deloris Wright, Domestic Workers United; and Philip Harvey, Rutgers School of Law. How’s that for a representative sample of opinion on employer-employee relations?

This portion of the State Department submission to the United Nations reprises complaints made in January 2009 by Human Rights Watch, which then declared the Employee Free Choice Act to be a “human rights imperative.” As we argued then and would remind the State Department today:

Freedom of association and freedom of expression, those are human rights, natural rights, agreed.

Those human rights are NOT served by eliminating the protections of the secret ballot and encouraging the intimidation of employees by union organizers, which is precisely what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.

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