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.