Thursday, March 24, 2011

Miguel On Union Busting

A great philosopher once wrote that it is always more meaningful to praise someone’s genius if he is no longer with us because there can be no suspicion about motive since one cannot gain favors or seek reciprocal praises from a person who has passed on. It is with this axiom in mind that I remember my great friend Miguel. Miguel was a great labor leader who always showed his love for working people; however, he was also a very funny man and that too will live with me forever. With this in mind, I decided to write fictional dialogs that have taken place between my good friend and me and his toughts regarding current events.

A lot of time has passed since Miguel left us, so I do not mean to disrespect him, his family, and other friends. I write this simply to provide you will a brief look into the mind of a genius who found the lighter side to most serious issues. Enjoy and if you like, I will post others. Just let me know.

. . . .

This took place sometime around 11:50 a.m. the other day.

A deep and trembling voice suddenly out of nowhere is heard in the law office of Steven Holguin:

Deep Voice: “Mr. Holguin, I have Miguel on the line for you. He wants to speak with you.”

Steve: “Can you tell him I am rather . . .”

Deep Voice: “Please hold for him.”

Miguel: Hey Steverino, how you been? Want to have some lunch?

Steve: Hey Miguel, sure, but I didn’t know you still eat food.

Miguel: “What, I can eat all I want now. It never shows. Wait ‘til you see how good I look.”

Steve: “Sure that sounds good but can you come to my office first? You know I don’t drive anymore. Then we will find a place near here to eat.”

Miguel: “Okay but I am already here. Turn around.”

Steve: “Wow, that was quick. Okay, let me see how you look. Bullshit Miguel, you look the same to me.”

Miguel: “Yeah this observation coming from the guy who is blind. Everyone else says I look great.”

Steve: “Right, they must work for you. Hey, before we go, did you read this article in the daily fish rap about union-busting stuff happening around the country? And the point the author makes in the article that because of the media hype against unions, young people are joining the ranks as union organizers?” 

Miguel: “Does the article say anything about me?”

Steve: “No, not this time Miguel.”

Miguel: “While that is no great news, young people have been working for unions for years. Do you know why?”

Steve: “No, but I am sure you will tell me.”

Miguel: “Here are the top ten reasons young people join unions as organizers.”

“Number 10: Their 24 hour 7 days a week work schedule gives them an excuse not to attend boring family events.

Number 9: Fighting for workers' rights is a great pickup line.

Number 8: Their parents allow them to live two more years at home rent-free. 

Number 7: They do not have to spend money on clothes or haircuts so they save some money.

Number 6: No one expects them to own a dependable car so they can save some money there too.

Number 5: They have a great excuse to get out of a steady relationship because they are too busy with the movement.

Number 4: Someone else pays their cell phone bills.

Number 3: People see them on television shouting, protesting, and being arrested, and they think that looks cool.

Number 2: “They want to work for great leaders like me.”

And, Number 1: “What else can they do with a college degree now days? Teach? Yeah, good luck with that career.”

Steve: “That is funny Miguel but I think I read that somewhere before.”

Miguel: “You did, but I inspired the author to write it. Hey, I just realized I have to go. See you later Steverino. Be well.”

Steve: Be well Miguel.

The U.S. Constitution Protects the Right to Unionize

The U.S. Constitution protects and the U.S. public policy encourages the right of workers to unionize. Despite the corporate media and conservative critics that serve the interest of the wealthy dishonest attempts to demonize organized labor the truth is that the government has the power to regulate and pass laws enforcing labor relations and collective bargaining rights. Moreover, this country embraces those rights as a public policy. If you do not believe me trying doing some homework. Okay, you are too busy to do the homework, then read on because I have done a little of the work you.

It is not my intention to cover the overwhelming statutes, regulations, and court cases that support the proposition that the U.S. Constitution protects workers’ right to collective bargaining and to unionize. No one can handle such a monster size task in a simple blog. I will leave that work to others to perform; however, I will provide you with a brief introduction to the U.S. Constitutional provisions that I believe support those rights. It is my intent to give you enough facts that will help you recognize the lies stated by the corporate media and conservative critics who serve the wealthy in their attempts to bust unions.

Allow me to start-off with an admission that no provision in the U.S. Constitution directly or literally addresses workers’ right to collective bargaining or join unions. However, I hope that we can agree that the U.S. Constitutional does not always literally spell-out every constitutional right we enjoy in this country. People, with at least a fifth grade education, accept the fact that many of our rights have developed over the years by principles of law established by the courts and their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Hence, if we can all agree to the obvious that the absence of direct statutory language does not make an established right any less enforceable or meaningful, then we can move on to those provisions of the U.S. Constitution that Congress and the courts have found to support the right to unionize.

Let us start with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. No intense research or citations to law or court cases are need to make the equally obvious point that the First Amendment protection us from government infringement of our rights to the freedom of speech and assembly. Although the law does not specifically enumerate every type of individual, group, type of speech, or events covered by the law, Congress and the courts have broadly applied this law; and, once again, it is no less enforceable or meaningful. Therefore, if every person has the right to assemble with people of their choosing, then it naturally follows that workers have the right to form unions. What more need I say?

Next, the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution permits Congress to pass laws regulating labor–management relations. The Interstate Commerce Clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, and the U. S. Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that the government has the power to regulate labor relations. Relying on this law, Congress in the 1930s passed the Wagner Act -or the National Labor Relations Act - as we know it today. In passing the Wagner Act, Congress made it very clear that the public policy of the United States favored workers’ rights to unionize and encouraged collective bargaining. Anyone aware of the current attacks against workers will agree that the intent and the public policy reasons as stated by Congress in the 1930s are equally relevant today as they were then. In 1930s, Congress stated as follows:

“The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership associations substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries."
"Experience has proved that protection by law of the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively safeguards commerce from injury, impairment, or interruption, and promotes the flow of commerce by removing certain recognized sources of industrial strife and unrest, by encouraging practices fundamental to the friendly adjustment of industrial dispute arising out of differences as to wages, hours, or other working conditions, and by restoring equality of bargaining power between employers and employees."
. . .
"It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the cases of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representation of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.“
See, the National Labor Relations Act, Section 1, cited as 29 U.S.C. § 151.
In addition, the U. S. Supreme Court has relied on basic due process of law principles of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution to resolve labor-management cases. Of course, the Fifth Amendment guarantees us due process of law at the federal level and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the same rights at the state and local levels. Federal courts have relied on the these Amendments to uphold laws providing for the establishment of minimum wages, limits on the length of workweeks, requirements to pay overtime, the elimination of discriminatory conduct by employers against workers, and many other rights. For example, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, gender, color, religion, or national origin. Other federal laws prohibit wage discrimination based on gender, age, or disability.

Of course, individual states may pass laws giving workers greater rights than those guaranteed by federal laws, but the Supremacy Clause in Article VII of the U.S. Constitution and the incorporation of the Fourteenth Amendment extends these federal protections to the state and local levels. Therefore, a state can never take away federally established workers’ rights to bargain collectively and to unionize.

As I stated above, this was only a brief look into the U.S. Constitution and its provisions that support workers rights to organize, unionize, and collective bargaining. The rest of the homework is up to you to complete but I hope by now you have enough correct information to reject the misinformation out there that workers have no legal rights to bargain collectively or to unionize.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cutbacks in workers' pay and benefits will not solve our economic and social problems.

I wrote this blog last year but given the recent and visible attacks against workers and unions in this country, I decided to re-post it.

In this post I layout my opinion that the degree of income inequality in this country (as in any country) has a direct relationship to our economic and social troubles. Contrary to the rhetoric repeated by politicians, working people and their wages and benefits did not cause the economic recession and reducing the wages and benefits is not the remedy; instead, the greed of the wealthy income earners caused this problem and a redistribution of wealth is the solution.

Since the 1970s, the wealthy people of this country (i.e., the top one percent of income earners) have outpaced the middle class and poor in the amounts of income they have accumulated. During this time and in the 1980's working people could not keep up with the cost of living the American Dream on one income, so to afford the dream the nonworking spouse had to join the work force and for a few years that generate enough income to live comfortably. In the 1990s and 2000s, having two incomes was not enough. The income gap between the middle class and the wealthy got wider and the cost of living the American Dream seemed out of reach. Then in 2008, the Great Recession hit this country and immediately the wealthy started to blame workers and unions for the financial problems of this country.

State and local government have bought into this propaganda and have ignored the reality of how the elite played fantasy finance with other peoples' money, lost the money, and as a result caused the Great Recession. But instead of punishing these crooks, the wealthy received trillions of dollars from the government treasuries to make up for these gamblers' lost profits. Then after the rich received governemnt money they started a campaign against workers and unions and falsely claimed it was workers’ greed and unions that caused this country’s economic downfall. By falsely identifing workers and their unions as the causes of the recession the wealthy now want a decrease in workers’ wages and benefits, cuts in spending for most social service programs, and new sales taxes on basic consumer items. However, at the same time the wealthy want more taxes cuts on their income and investments, elimination of government oversight on banking and commerce, and privatization of public programs like education and socia sercuity.

During the past forty years the wealthy have taken actions just like these to maximize their profits by polluting the environment, violating employee wage and hour laws, moving their plants to other countries and leaving millions of workers unemployed and homeless. Within these decades the wealthy have convinced the voters to vote against their own self-interest and vote for politicans who serve only the rich resulting in a steady decline in livable wages, less public funds, slow destruction and privatization of government services, deep cuts in social welfare programs,the elimination of unions and basic bargainig rights, and the immediate deportation of immigrant workers and their children.

We cannot continue to ignore the obvious that income equality results in a dysfunctional society. California for example is one of the top ten worst states based on income inequality along with Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Studies have shown that direct results of income gap widening on working communities include increases in levels of mental illness (beyond those related to drug and alcohol abuse), staggering infant mortality and life expectancy rates, overwhelming obesity rates, severe drop in children education performances, rising teen pregnancies, higher unemployment or underemployment and unsustainable rates of imprisonment.

Yet in the mist of all these social and economic ills caused by the greed of the wealthy and corrupt government policies, people point their fingers of blame at the victims themselves. The rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer. [For an excellent and detailed analysis of this theory regarding the global and national causes and effects of income equality read: The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Bloomberg Press, 2009].

We must embrace an agenda dedicated to providing our communities with jobs that produce higher livable wages and benefits with a goal to narrow the income inequality. How do we do this?

Of course, I know there are no easy answers to these problems and solutions are beyond this post, but here are some suggestions. First, the local and state governments must pass legislation that help employers, unions, politicans, and everyone in the communities to work together to create safe work places that enhance the manufacturing of goods and create well paying jobs in the United States. An example of such legislation would include investments in clean energy technology and manufacturing. Second, the centuries old business model of profits at the cost of social and economic problems must cease. We must replace this greedy and antiquated model with a new model that focuses more on the prosperity and well-being of everyone. Corporations and the rich must pay their fair share of taxes. Third, enact legislation and policies that reward employers who apply this new model of business with tax and other monetary incentives. Then punish and eliminate employers who continue to pollute the environment and violate workers rights to a safe workplace and fair wages and benefits.

Of course, this is a difficult and complex problem; however, how else can we address these ills if we do not start talking about them and being honest with ourselves?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Why Does the NFL Want a Lockout?

The good news over the weekend is that the contract negotiations between the National Football League owners and the player union will continue for a few more days. The bad news is that the owners continue to threaten the players with a lockout. If the lockout happens that would result in another blow to organized labor because no matter what you think about the players' pay scale, they are workers and the owners motive is to break the union and make more money.

I recognize that many football fans know little about labor disputes and most likely do not know the difference between a strike and a lockout. Plus, I know that should the NFL lockout the players, most fans will blame the players and make uninformed claims that players make too much money and should be happy with the large salaries they earn. Well that is the purpose of this blog. Before you start passing judgment, I ask that you consider the following information.

Let me start with a fact that the NFL is a monopoly. An eight billion dollar a year monopoly and that figure does not include the other income received from the sales of NFL gear and revenue generated or saved by tax-free incentives given to teams by local governments. Yet, in spite of all their profits, the NFL is threatening the players with a lockout. The NFL’s game plan is to force the players to accept substantial cuts in pay, so the owners can use the money generated by television to build new stadiums, which in the past was subsidized by local taxpayers. However, now that taxpayers have caught on the NFL's game plan, they are refusing to subsidize the construction of these new stadiums, the owners want the players to take less money so the owners can use the money to construct new stadiums. Also, the owners want two more regular season games per year (so the broadcasting fees will go up) yet the owners are not willing to address players pensions and health insuarnce coverage, especially for former players who suffer from life-threatening injuries and long-terms illness.

By now you should be asking if this monopoly is legal? The answer is yes. It started in 1961 when Congress permitted the NFL to negotiate collectively over television broadcasting rights with CBS. Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act granting the NFL an exemption to antitrust laws. [See, 15 U.S.C. § 1291]. The justification behind the passage of this Act was to insure that the public could view football games on regular television over the airwaves. Okay, maybe that made sense then, but does it still hold true today?

For decades, the NFL's ironclad hold over the sport of professional football brought the owners truck loads of money, but then they wanted more. So in my opinion the NFL owners used its power to blackmail local governments into given the owners money by threatening to take their teams to other cities. In fear of losing a team to another city, the owners would bully local governments into delivering multi-million dollar stadiums subsidized with public money either directly or through tax breaks. Then if the local government does not play along, the team owner took the team to another city. For years the owners became rich off of the profits made by local tax payers building the stadiums. Now that taxpayers are not longer allowing their local governments to hand-out money to the NFL owners, the owners want the players to take cuts in pay.

But you ask what happened to the original reason for the anti-trust exemption? Does it still hold water? In my opinion the answer is no. Currently you can watch one or at times maybe two professional football game on Sunday mornings or afternoons over the free airwaves. Yet on Sunday night, Monday night, and Thursday night you need cable or satellite coverage to watch the other games.

Okay you say, what about the big money the player receive for playing the sport?True, the players make a lot more than the average worker, but at what risks? A player in the NFL has a 5% to 10% chance of contracting dementia, Alzheimer's or another cognitive disease that is related to concussions and traumatic brain injuries sustained during his brief years in the NFL. These figures may not include the other quality of life limiting injuries to the players’ bodies such as spinal and leg injuries that players must endure for the rest of their lives with limited or no health benefits to count on in exchange for an average career of three to four years of playing professional football.

Now again you say the physical risks they face go with the sport and the money they earn. True there are several million-dollar players in the sport. However, for each one of these franchise players many more earn the league minimum of $400,000 (and the NFL wants to cut rookie pay too). Moreover, these players usually end up cut or suffer a career ending injury that leaves them with no other marketable skills to support themselves or their families.

All I am asking is that you think about these facts before you start joining the sports talk radio jocks who complain about the high pay of the football players. Plus, should the NFL hire “replacement” players for next year’s football season remember these facts.