Does a “Right to Organize” Notice Matter

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New Orleans  The very conservative US District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. overturned the proposed requirement issued by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in December 2010, requiring all employers to post a notice advising workers that they had the right to organize.  The decision is an exercise in tomfoolery since the DC Appeals Court ruled that such an order abridged an employer’s freedom of speech in opposing a union.  The NLRB had argued the order was neutral, simply stating the legal rights of workers to organize. 

A notice articulating the simple facts of the law protecting the rights involving organizing is no different than other mandatory postings on minimum wages, workplace safety, or employment discrimination.  It is patently not a violation of the right of freedom of speech to give employers the right to break the law in those situations, nor would it be so in this one.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is also reviewing this question, and if there are differences of opinion, eventually the US Supreme Court will weigh in on the matter and resolve the question. 

None of these decisions change any labor laws since all the notice involves is a public disclosure in the workplace that workers in fact have these rights, so we all have to ask, “Does it matter?”  More importantly, would the notice encourage or impact the amount of organizing in the private sector anyway?

A former Local 100 and SEIU organizer met with me more than a year ago and wanted to talk about an aggressive organizing campaign to take advantage of what he hoped would be a surge of worker interest in organizing unions in their workplaces, once these notices were allowed to be posted.  It was hard for me to muster enthusiasm then, and even harder now. 

The dispute about this poster is a placeholder for the larger animosity that employers have for unions which the court appointed Republican judges share.   Understanding this innocuous piece of paper in that context explains the decision, even if it doesn’t clarify the law.  Believe me, workers have gotten the memo every way that it can be delivered by their bosses, that employers don’t want a union for their workers.  Workers don’t need a poster to tell them differently or to stir up a series of captive audience meetings and one-on-one harangues from their supervisors.   There is little more deflating to new union stewards or organizers when they win their first NLRB charge of labor lawbreaking and find that often their victory only means a poster in the workplace for a couple of months saying the employer is promising to not break the law again.  The poster is virtually impotence on display.  Nor have posters done very much to stop wage theft on minimum wage violations or create worker safety where employers are trying to curtail it. 

There’s nothing wrong with disclosures and posters, but nothing substitutes for the real work of organizing, and that’s the only thing that is going to change the climate for unionization.  For employers this is just a head fake.  As the old schoolyard saying goes, “sticks and stones” are one thing, but “words” will never hurt them.

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