The ACLU Is Trying To Make It Easier To Fire Their Employees for "Disloyalty"

ACLU Managers are looking to defang the “just cause” provision in their union workers’ contracts

Photo Credit: flickr: Scott Granneman

According to the Village Voice, the ACLU is looking to gut the union contract of its lowest paid workers, including its receptionists, mail clerks, and bookkeepers.

Non-profits and do-gooders are often bad employers, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear this. But I was surprised to hear this:

Managers are also looking to defang the “just cause” provision in union workers’ contracts, the right of a worker to get a fair hearing with an arbitrator if managers are looking to fire her. It demands that employers prove they have a good reason for terminating someone. The ACLU management hopes to narrow the infractions protected by the arbitration process, and to make “disloyalty” a fireable offense without defining what exactly disloyalty means.

All across the country—from California to Arizona to Georgia—the ACLU and its affiliates have been fighting the government’s use of loyalty oaths as a condition of employment.The ACLU, rightly, thinks it is wrong to require a government employee to swear her allegiance to the United States, a particular state, the Constitution, or a state constitution. But it thinks it’s just fine to fire its own employees for being disloyal to…what? The boss? The principles of the ACLU?

The ACLU is also one of the foremost defenders of the rights of due process of citizens and non-citizens. While it has long been a contentious issue as to whether and how the principles of due process apply to the workplace, the  idea of “just cause” termination lies well within the moral orbit of those principles. The notion that you should only be fired for a fireable offense—and that you should be entitled to defend yourself before a neutral third party against the claims of your employer—partakes of (and derives from) the same political universe that holds that the state should not deprive you of certain benefits without good reason and without some kind of procedure.

It is more than a little ironic that an organization that was explicitly founded on the defense of the rights of labor should have come to this pass. (Though anyone who’s been following the organization’s more recent history, as Mark Ames has, won’t be surprised. As an ACLU spokeswoman told Ames: “Labor rights are certainly a key issue for the ACLU; it is folded into our work for free speech, immigrants’ rights and women’s rights.” Notice what’s left out: their own employees.)

Still, the larger problem is not the ACLU past or present. It’s the continued refusal, even by our most progressive organizations, to see the workplace as a regime of governance, a regime that can spy on, harass, punish, control, and coerce its subjects, who often have far less rights against that regime than they do against their own government.

Update (July 25, 11 am)

Ned Resnikoff at MSNBChas more information on this. This caught my eye:

So far, many of ACLU’s non-union staff seem to be on the side of Local 2110. Over 60 of them co-signed a letter to Romero and the non-profit’s directors, urging them to “agree to a contract that does not cut benefits or diminish workplace rights.”

So if the non-union staff at the ACLU is on the side of the workers rather than management, to whom or what are the workers being disloyal?

Corey Robin teaches political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin and Fear: The History of a Political Idea.

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