Obama's Right on Crucial Issue of Replacement Workers

This is a diary from TeamsterPower

You can't be fired for going out on strike. That's against the law. But if the boss hires an untrained scab to permanently take your place, he or she does not have to give you your job back when the strike is over.

Barack Obama has pledged to protect striking workers:
Obama supports the right of workers to bargain collectively and strike if necessary. He will work to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods.
Permanent replacements have been around since 1938 when the Supreme Court said in NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co. that a company does not have to reinstate "economic strikers" if it hired strikebreakers to continue the business. Now, for you business majors out there, that may sound well and good. Why should I rehire a worker who went on strike for a raise if I can find someone to do the job for less money? Why? Because it's fair. It's the right thing to do. Because many times, these workers have sacrificed to make your business a success and when it succeeds they should be rewarded, not treated like draft animals or machines.

Consider the workers at Diamond Walnut in Stockton, Calif. In 1985 Diamond was facing bankruptcy and turned to its workers for help. The workers, Teamsters from Local Union 601, agreed to take pay cuts of up to 40 percent to help the company weather the tough times.

By 1991 Diamond had reached the Fortune 500 and bragged of record profits. But instead of giving those profits back to its employees, the company demanded more concessions.

On Sept. 4, 1991, the workers went on strike -- a fight that would last 14 years only because Diamond was prepared. As soon as the strike was called the company began hiring replacement workers.

Watch this video for the full story:

No worker should have to wait 14 years for justice, living on $200-a-week strike pay.

The Diamond Walnut strike caught the attention of the Clinton administration which supported legislation that would have banned employers from dismissing strikers. The legislation died on a cloture vote in the Senate. It failed by three votes; five Democrats failed to support the bill (Boren D-OK, Bumpers D-AR, Hollings D-SC, Pryor D-AR, Sanford D-NC). President Clinton followed with an executive order that would have banned federal purchasing from companies that employed replacement workers. The order was struck down.

This is not a threat of the past. For more than 40 years employers rarely took on unreliable strikebreakers for fear of losing quality or risking long-term labor unrest. Then, in 1981 President Reagan emboldened employers by replacing striking air traffic controllers. Meanwhile standards of quality have been sacrificed to globalization on the golden altar of quarterly profits. The practice of hiring permanent replacements has become a common arm twisting and union-busting tactic ever since.

Want to break a union? Back the workers into a corner. Let your contract lapse and refuse to negotiate. Slap them in the face and dare them to strike. When the workers strike, start hiring replacements — a majority so you can request a union decertification vote when the strike is over and only a handful of the defeated union members come back.

But today, Barack Obama is the only presidential candidate left who supports a ban on permanent replacement workers. (Edwards also supported such a ban.)

If you value your union, if you value the right to collective bargaining, if you value the labor movement, then you will vote for Barack Obama. The Employee Free Choice Act is important. Renegotiating NAFTA and stopping other trade agreements that sell out working Americans is important. But if workers continue to be denied the right to strike, they lose the ability to fight for economic justice. Unions must organize more and more workers to exceed losses. And what value is solidarity if you're all unemployed?

The members of Local 601 are heroes. They took a stand on principal and through ingenuity and perseverance actually succeeded in a situation where most strikers fail.

After more than a year of crossing the picket line, the replacements realized they were Diamond's pawns. See, even "permanent" replacement workers can be fired at will without a union contract to protect them. They voted with the strikers for union representation with the Teamsters. The workers turned the tables on Diamond.

There would still be another 12 years of appeals, NLRB elections, and decisions (most of which favored the Teamsters). But in 2005, the strike finally ended with the ratification of a five-year contract that increased wages, stabilized healthcare costs, and provided a 401(k) plan. The strikers retained their benefits and seniority when they returned to the plant, and all without causing the replacement workers to lose their jobs.

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The opinions expressed by our writers are their own.

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