AFL-CIO Takes Bush to International Labor Organization

Saying the Bush adminstration's National Labor Relations Board "has turned its back on workers precisely at the moment it should be invigorating the protections" of U.S. labor law, the AFL-CIO filed a massive complaint against the Bush board with the International Labour Organization on Oct. 25. Due to the actions of the Bush-named GOP majority on the 5-person board, "The National Labor Relations Act"--the nation's basic labor law--"has now become a regulatory regimen that enshrines the so-called rights of employers to oppose the efforts of their employees to engage in freedom of association," the federation states.

"Under Bush, America's labor board has so failed our nation's workers that we must now turn to the world's international watchdogs to monitor and intervene," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "The Bush board is kryptonite for America's workers. There is no historic precedent for such aggressive efforts by the board to curtail workers' rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining."

The complaint went to the Brussels-based international group for investigation and the agency typically asks the accused government to respond. But there is no time frame for the probe and ILO has no enforcement powers against the Bush administration or its NLRB if it finds wrongdoing that violates international labor conventions.

In its complaint, the AFL-CIO paints a damning picture of the concerted effort by the Bush board majority to weaken and deny workers' rights, refuse labor law coverage to large groups of workers and generally curb the freedom of association. It cites a pattern in 61 NLRB rulings since Bush took office.

That includes the right to organize and the right to strike, according to ILO conventions, the AFL-CIO said. And though the U.S. has never formally ratified those pacts, as an ILO member, the U.S. is supposed to obey their guidelines, the fed said.

The NLRB pattern the AFL-CIO cited has five facets:

  • Denial of rights to large groups of workers.

  • Curbs on the workers' fundamental right to strike, which the ILO says is "an intrinsic corollary to the right to organize." The federation said recent Bush NLRB decisions "have given employers greater ability to deny reinstatement to returning strikers under a doctrine this committee has already concluded 'entails a risk of derogation from the right to strike.'"

  • Despite an ILO convention that says organizing is to be protected, the fed said that "a host of Bush board decisions expanded employers' license under the NLRA to threaten, harass, and intimidate workers who seek to organize or join a union, or participate in collective activities to further their goal of achieving representation."

  • The Bush board makes it easier to "fire or otherwise discriminate against" workers who try to unionize.

  • "While the government is responsible for preventing all acts of anti-union discri-mination and it must ensure complaints of anti-union discrimination are examined in the framework of national procedures which should be prompt, impartial and considered as such by the parties concerned, the Bush board has severely curtailed the already weak remedies available under the NLRA against employer misconduct," the fed noted.

Even when there's an "egregious situation" covered by past NLRB rulings, the Bush board won't penalize the employers, the AFL-CIO noted. And the Bush board takes too long to decide cases, it added. As of the end of fiscal 2006, last Sept. 30, labor law cases with "significant issues" stayed before the board an average of 1,312 days, while other cases stayed there 824 days.

"In a system replete with all the appearance of legality and due process, workers' exercise of rights to organize, to bargain, and to strike in the U.S. has been frustrated," the fed said.

"We do not rely on any single case or dispute to demonstrate the extent to which the NLRB has eviscerated workers fundamental rights during" the Bush government. "Rather, the cases, each taking at least a 'smallish nibble' out of the NLRA's worker protections, have produced the eviscerated…organism. This denies workers their fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining."

The AFL-CIO cited the ILO panel's own conclusion that U.S. labor law sets up "an elaborate system for the hearing and adjudication of unfair labour practices before the NLRB.'" And the panel--and the fed--noted board decisions were "frequently very complex…weighing the respective interests of the parties and interpreting the domestic labor legislation and jurisprudence as applied to a given set of facts."

But the federation declared "complexity is no excuse for the board consistently to 'resolve the doubts in borderline cases in the wrong direction,'" according to an academic study of the board's 70-year history. "Nor should it provide the occasion for the board to strain to decide issues not presented by the parties in order to rule against workers' rights, shift the burdens of proof to make it more difficult to establish unlawfulness of employer conduct, or craft rules that enshrine double standards for union and employer conduct, or delay decisions until they become ineffective," the AFL-CIO said.

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